Week 6 Game Review - New Orleans Saints v. Houston Texans
New Orleans 13 - Houston 20
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Heading into the bye with a 3-3 record is something most Texans fans would have been happy with back in March at the start of the league year. Karma…football gods…whomever…was looking down on the Houston Texans this weekend. Two missed field goals, fumble off an interception, and Derek Carr usual performance reminds you that there is some light shining through at NRG Stadium.
Houston held off the New Orleans Saints for a nice victory 13 to 20 at NRG stadium, another win for the Houston fanbase at home. Unlike last week against Atlanta, the Houston defense was able to hold off last minute efforts by their opponent.
Looking at the high level statistic sheet you wouldn't think that score ended up the way it did. Another testament to how Houston was able to win an ugly game. I mentioned last week the team needed to learn how to win ugly. Well it happened, and it happened quickly!
We usually discuss the offense first but not today! Houston was the epitome of “bend don’t break” mentality. Head coach Demeco Ryans returned to his aggressive play calling ways. Houston finished the day with a 35% blitz rate, bringing 5 or more pass rushers on 36% of New Orleans’ drop backs including 3 all out Cover 0 blitzes (more on that in film review). Ryans definitely turned up the heat.
Sheldon Rankins had his best game of the year. Rankins finished the day with 6 tackles, 1 sacks, 2 quarterback pressures, and 1 run stuff. Rankins showcased a high rate motor, shredding blockers, and forcing decisions in the backfield.
Blake Cashman also had a day. Cashman, previously, would come off the field in sub-packages. No longer is that the case, with Cashman finishing the day with 100% of the defensive snaps. 15 tackles, 3 quarterback pressures, and 3 run stuffs later (and a sweet seam end zone coverage route against Mike Thomas) provided Cashman the opportunity to showcase what he is capable of with a full slate of snaps. Cashman was rewarded by the league as defensive player of the week.
Houston has laid a full set of responsibilities at Cashman’s feet. Cashman had zone responsibilities covering a large portion of the middle of the field. The team has shown a huge amount of trust in him. Cashman continues to excel in straight line coverage, and his run defense lane integrity improves week over week.
Jimmie Ward was the iron man of the day. In base packages Ward was lining up in his usual position of safety (both box and centerfield). However when the defense shifted to a sub-package, Ward was moving down to the slot/nickelback spot. MJ Stewart was deployed to back fill at the safety position after an early exit by veteran Eric Murray.
Will Anderson continued his rampage with 4 tackles, 7 quarterback pressures, and 1 run stuff. Anderson, currently, has a low pressure to sack conversion rate, and but it is only a matter of time before sacks show up on the stat sheet.
Veteran Jerry Hughes has become the pass rush mercenary. Just this past week Hughes generated pressure on the opposing quarterback on 31% of his pass rush snaps. For reference take a look at the chart above…do you see anyone beyond 30% on season long pressure rate?
In terms of pass coverage I would rate the day as solid. This secondary is one Derek Stingley away from being really good. Until Stingley returns, Demeco will continue to find ways to disguise coverage and use zone coverage concepts to protect Shaq Griffin. Steven Nelson continues playing at high level finishing the day with 1 interception, and he let two interception opportunities get away from him. Nelson finished the day with 5 allowed receptions on 8 targets and 4 tackles (no missed tackles this week!). Nelson’s yardage numbers were a bit skewed by the 51 yard bomb to Shaheed.
Houston finished the day utilizing zone coverage on 75% of their snaps, a slight decrease from past two weeks. Continued split usage of Single High (43%) and Split Safety (49%) with more mixture of Cover 4/Quarters on top of the usual Cover 3 scheme Ryans relies on.
The big takeaway for me was the decrease in missed tackles. Houston had been one of the worst teams in terms of tackling efficiency. The defense finished the day with just 7 missed tackles. A number that has been hovering around 15 per game prior to this week.
The run game saw some life with Houston finishing the day with 120 yards on 31 carries (3.9 yards per carry). The difference was the division of carries between Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary.
Against Atlanta the running game was all Dameon Pierce with Singletary not receiving any carries. This week Houston went full running back by committee with Pierce getting 13 carries, Singletary 12 carries, and Mike Boone getting one carry.
Pierce saw the majority of his carries (8 attempts) go inside the tackles, conversely with Singletary’s carries (10 attempts) go outside of the tackles. The YBC (yards before contact) aligns with the rushing direction. Singletary was averaging 1.8 yards before contact , and Pierce was at 0.15 yard average before contact.
Houston will need to avoid showing tendencies with the run game based on the who is lined up in the backfield. Pierce saw more success when lining up next to CJ Stroud in shotgun formations. Singletary found more success when Stroud was lined up under center. This will be a balancing act, something to be closely monitored coming out of the bye week. In the middle second quarter Houston called 8 straight run plays!
Between the two players their attempts finished with a 40% success rate. Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik continues to lean on the zone running game calling 17 attempts on zone concepts, and 10 attempts on a gap/power scheme.
Nico Collins and Dalton Schultz continue to command targets in the receiving game. Schultz finished the day with 4 receptions on 7 targets for 61 yards including one touchdown. Collins with 4 receptions on 6 targets for 80 yards. The two players combined were 77% of Stroud’s first read on drop backs.
Noah Brown had a nice return to action with 2 receptions on 5 targets for 37 yards including a nice 34 yard gain early in the first half. Brown’s snaps may drop with the return of Tank Dell after the bye week.
The big positive for the entire receiving group was zero dropped catchable passes. Both PFF and FantasyPts concluded the pass to Schultz in the endzone was not catchable.
CJ Stroud’s infamous streak of passing attempts with no interceptions came to an end on Sunday. Finishing the day with 13 completions on 27 attempts for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Stroud saw a clean pocket on 60% of his drop backs. Stroud was sacked twice on the day with one sack charged as a quarterback sack.
Overall Stroud has not shown any signs of hitting a “rookie wall” or slowing down with his performance.
No specific theme this week. Just plays that I found interesting for one reason or another. Especially a particular CJ Stroud throw down below I was super excited to see.
Early in the game Houston goes empty set with their 11 personnel with a 3x2 package. Schultz is lined up as inline tight end at the formation with Pierce at the bottom of your screen. New Orleans appears to be in a Cover 3 single high look, however the boundary cornerbacks are going with outside leverage.
Collins, from the slot, will take a quick 5 yard in-breaking route with Stroud on a quick drop from shotgun. Collins is looking for the open area in the middle of the field. Stroud eyes the linebacker attempting to block the throwing lane, and pulls the ball down and waits for a new throwing lane to generate. Impressive patience here by Stroud. No eyes on Schultz who may have been open on the opposite seam route.
Twice in this game Will Anderson had hands on the quarterback unable to come down with the sack. Personally I am not concerned with the lack of sacks from Anderson. His pressure numbers are where you want for his position. Only a matter of time before these types of situations result in a sack.
Houston working in their nickel package with Ward in the slot, Cashman and To’oTo’o as the two box linebackers. Greenard and Anderson lined up in their traditional wide 9 edge spots. Anderson gets a one on one rep with Ramczyk on the play action. Anderson stutter steps for an outside move with a quick in-step to squeeze the gap into Carr’s lap.
Houston is in their 21 personnel with Singletary in I-formation with fullback Beck. New Orleans showing 7 defenders in the box. Quitoriano works the edge not allowing his defender to turn to contain the edge. Tunsil finds space pulling to the open zone as Collins works the second level. Howard does a good job of riding his assignment down the line. Beck picks up the edge with Quitoriano creating a nice lane for Singletary.
The run game success with Singletary pays off. Houston again showing their 21 personnel with a split I-formation. Brown will motion to the tight slot spot inside of Collins creating a stack designed to stress the single high safety. Houston goes with play action creating a 7 man protection with just two routes. The action pulls the linebackers downfield creating a huge void. Brown gets the leverage he needs with the safety having yet declared which route he will assist on. Clean pocket gives Stroud an easy look to Brown for the big gain.
Aggressive blitz packages is something we have not seen from Demeco Ryans the past two weeks. Sunday that changed with more than one Cover 0 type blitz package. Houston has their double mug package here, pressing the line with Cashman and To’oTo’o over the center. From this look Houston can bring 6 or 7 rushers, or one or both of the linebackers could drop into coverage. The defensive backs are lined up across the board in man coverage with no safety help. Pitre is hiding out behind Anderson as a potential rusher. This time all 7 players bring the pressure, and New Orleans only has 6 blockers. Carr is able to get rid of the ball in time, but had no chance of making a read.
Dameon Pierce inside power scheme just works. Pierce’s footwork and decision making confidence is higher in this type of look compared to outside zone cut backs. With Stroud in shotgun, Houston’s 11 personnel is set with a 3x1 package with Collins out of the picture wide left. Patterson and Howard will duo one defensive tackle, with Mason and Fant duo on the other inside tackle. The lane takes a bit longer to develop, but Mason’s continued work re-opens the lane for Pierce.
Ok admittingly this is probably my favorite play of the game. Not because of the play outcome but what Stroud did here. Watch the defensive back who shifts into the box before the snap, who then drops into coverage after the snap to take away the throwing line. Stroud looks right, and gets the DB to move towards Pierce in the flat. Stroud had no intentions of throwing to Pierce, he just wanted the DB to move a bit. Boom throwing lane is there. Collins has his man beat with the deep crossing route underneath Brown’s post corner route; pseudo sail routes to the same side of the field.
Awesome to see this from a rookie quarterback!!
Remember the 8 straight run plays in the second quarter I highlighted earlier? The play action success is the result, here early in the 3rd quarter. Houston remains in their 21 personnel with Beck stacked with Schultz as blocking tight ends. 2x2 tight formation with Woods and Hutchinson stacked to the left. Woods motions to the line of scrimmage to act as a blocker. New Orleans shows a single high look but rotates to a Cover 4, post snap, with Houston deploying two receivers, both on verticals. Hutchinson’s speed sends everyone with their back to the quarterback, and Schultz breaks off his route at 15 yards, perfectly timed with Stroud’s 5 step drop after the action.
This play by Maliek Collins probably doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but his pressure on the pocket likely saved a touchdown. Shaheed is wide open on the crossing route after Cashman and To’oTo’o bit hard on the play action.
Demeco Ryans now showing overload looks with a 5 man front. Collins and Rankins overload the right side, leaving the New Orleans interior confused on blocking assignments due to To’oTo’o line positioning. At the snap Max Garcia motions his blocking assignment at Rankins. Greenard is on the edge forcing Penning to block him. This leaves Collins unblocked with an easy tackle for loss. This type of play designs are fun to see.
Sheldon Rankins quietly had one of his best games of the year. Rankins lined up on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle. New Orleans goes with a zone inside run that was looking to develop a cutback lane. Rankins uses a beautiful swim move on Ruiz to eliminate the cutback for a nice tackle for loss.
Each week this staff opens the playbook just a bit more on both sides of the ball. The tackling performance was a welcomed sight. The areas of focus over the bye week is offensive red zone work. Houston has left points on the board week over week with red zone issues. Play-calling and execution are both issues.
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