Week 9 Game Review - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v. Houston Texans
Tampa Bay 37 - Houston 39
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The game that fans have been waiting to see! A big time win, at NRG Stadium, for the Texans provides the organization and the fanbase further assurance that CJ Stroud is the man and the arrow for this team is firmly pointed upwards.
Houston came into Sunday at 2.5 point favorites over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With home field advantage that line would mean a coin toss on the outcome from a betting perspective.
Tampa Bay bringing in their aggressive defense led by head coach Todd Bowles, a top 10 defense by multiple measures, only to be steam rolled by the Houston offense. This match truly ended up as “the team with the ball last probably wins” scenario.
Houston, try as they might with their run game, had to lean heavily on the passing offense and rookie quarterback CJ Stroud. Houston finished the day with 496 net offensive yards. Tampa Bay’s offense was efficient on the day with 39 points scored on 332 net offensive yards. The time of possession game was near identical with Tampa Bay at 31:20 and Houston at 28:40.
As noted earlier with Tampa Bay’s aggressive nature in the pass defense game, a theme that continued with a 33.3% blitz rate per NextGen Stats. Despite the heavy blitz efforts, the Houston offensive line generated a clean pocket on 68.9% of Stroud’s drop backs per PFF charting. We all know what happens when you give Stroud a clean pocket.
Houston’s offensive line performance, in the passing game, was an under discussed factor in this outcome. Houston did give up 3 sacks with two of those coming as unblocked. Overall the offensive line continues to find ways to win despite the grouping used on the field.
Houston’s defense held another team to less than 100 yards rushing with 81 yards surrendered. Houston with another dismal showing with 53 yards rushing. Will Anderson obtained his third sack of the year and Khalil Davis pulled in a nice sack on a long stunt. As usual Blake Cashman finished the day with 10 tackles the highest amongst the Houston defense.
Tampa Bay stuck with their tried and true single high safety zone schemes while mixing in some Cover 1 man coverage looks. The zone look that occurred on 88% of Houston’s drop backs. Houston deployed mesh routes and high low concepts to stress the single high safety…and did it work. When the single high looks failed, Tampa Bay shifted to quarters looks which Houston had more answers for with double post route concepts.
Houston’s defense struggled to stop Baker Mayfield as well. Houston maintained their zone looks on 82% of Tampa Bay’s drop backs. The team’s 50/50 use of single high and split safety looks continued despite big injuries occurring at the safety position during the game. Tampa Bay really attacked Houston’s Cover 4/Quarters look with deep crossers and vertical routes. Houston safety Deandre Houston-Carson had some difficulty managing the deep routes when tasked with helping over the top in Cover 4 looks. In the film review one clip will show Houston adjusting for that. Something to work on this week with Jimmie Ward likely out the next game or two.
You may have heard but CJ Stroud had a game…a historic performance that is. Finishing the day with a 30/42/470/5 line. Measured out, per NFL NextGen Stats, as the best passing performance of the 2023 season to date with an NGS Score of 96 (scale of 0-100).
Of those 470 yards passing Stroud spread the wealth among the four primary targets. 451 of the 470 passing yards went to the grouping of Noah Brown (153 yards), Dalton Schultz (130 yards), Tank Dell (114 yards), and Nico Collins (54 yards).
CJ Stroud’s first read option was spread fairly evenly across the grouping as well. Tank Dell received the most first read looks at 34.6%, Dalton Schultz at 26.9%, Nico Collins at 19.2%, and Noah Brown at 11.2%. Data from FantasyPts manual charting.
Just a taste of what was the come later in the game. Houston is in 11 personnel with Singletary next to Stroud in shotgun, Schultz inline tight end field side. 3x2 formation. Dell and Collins will run go routes, and both beat their receivers. Brown runs a seam deep stop/comeback route at the sticks. Michael Deiter does an excellent job picking up the delayed stunt from the linebacker. Tampa running their single high Cover 1 man across the board. Stroud could have go with Dell or Collins, and ends up over shooting Dell.
Slowik and Stroud start cooking in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Houston brings 21 personnel out with a tight formation with Dell and Collins stacked on the field side. Tampa showing blitz with a 5 man front giving Stroud the exact look he wanted. Both linebackers bite hard on the play action. Houston keeps a 7 man protection with just two routes. Tampa is in Cover 3 zone but with both linebackers biting on the play action the middle of the field is wide open. Dell sees this and full stops at 15 yards in the open void. Easy pitch and catch for Stroud.
Stroud wasn’t perfect and here is a miss he will want back. Houston spreads out the 11 personnel with Stroud in shotgun, with a 3x2 formation. Tampa again in 5 man front with single high look, man press across the board. Noah Brown motions giving Stroud the man coverage indicator pulling the box safety from the middle of the field. Collins gets the dream match up with a small safety in man press. Tampa brings the blitz with 6 pass rushers. Stroud 3 step drop, back foot dig, release. Just off target enough and Collins can’t pull it in. Very real chance this goes for a touchdown in placement is right.
Moving through the second quarter we see a mesh concept which has not been used much by Houston in recent weeks. Houston is in their 21 personnel but in shotgun formation with Beck lined up as a tight end next to Saubert creating a 7 man front run presentation. Tampa is showing Cover 1 man with their continued 5 man front. Saubert runs a through route to pull one linebacker out of the short underneath void. The other linebacker attempts a very lazy and late…blitz? Not sure. Beck and Metchie run the mesh across the formation creating an area with a major match-up advantage with three receivers and two defenders.
Christian Harris. A name we have not heard from this season. Early injuries and play time loss raised some flags for Harris. Week 9 was the Harris redemption game. Harris was all over the play with multiple pass break-ups, confident lane diagnosing and direction. This was a big third down stop with Harris recognizing the late RB release.
Sticking with defensive efforts. Check out this pass break up by safety Jalen Pitre. Solid trail technique on the deep crosser. The receiver did not flatten out the route enough allowing Pitre to take a direct line to make up lost ground, and extend to make the play. This was close to be a touchdown. Props the Perryman and Cashman not biting on the play action here.
Breaking out the classic yankee 2 receiver concept with a go route mixed with a deep crossing route. Tampa Bay opts to go with Cover 3 zone here with the safeties giving up too much depth trying to predict Dell’s over the top speed. Houston in 21 personnel with a slide right protection with a 7 man protection keeping Beck and Saubert in blocking. This provides a beautiful pocket for Stroud to work out of. The safety depth (again for protection against Dell’s speed) allows Brown to find the space with the deep crosser. Nice block by Dell to wall off the defender.
The rare back left quarterback slide off play action, but Stroud handles it well. Tampa Bay is attempting to show Cover 3 zone but rotates to Cover 4/Quarters post snap. Remember what works well against quarters? Double post concepts. Slowik dials up the perfect play call. Jet motion with Brown with play action with Singletary generates some confusion at the line of scrimmage. Houston deploys just two receivers again with Collins and Dell, leaving a 7 man protection. Dell angles his route to the middle of the field to pull coverage outside the hash. Collins runs a great route with a stick towards to boundary and then turns the safety around breaking inward on the post. Stroud under throws a bit with Collins making the adjustment for the reception.
Carlton Davis had a rough day at the office. Recall previous plays we saw the deep Cover 3 and Cover 4 coverage creating depth to cover Dell’s speed. Houston back in 11 personnel with a 3x2 formation to the short side. Tampa Bay drops into Cover 3 zone. Schultz is essentially a decoy here to pull coverage to the flat. Brown runs a through route post to the opposite hash to pull the single high safety. Dell’s double move gets the defensive back (Davis) tangled up, and Stroud hits probably the best throw of the day. Check out the video showing Dell’s location in relation to the defensive back when Stroud makes the throw. Wow.
I wanted to show this play to showcase Stroud’s confidence in the pocket and how bad he wanted another explosive play with Dell. Tampa brings just 4 pass rushers and the offensive line holds perfectly. Brown’s deep dig route is covered and the single high safety does not bite. Stroud is staring down the safety just waiting on the safety to take one step towards Dell. If the safety had taken that step down, Stroud would have uncorked this to the boundary to let Dell chase down. Ultimately Stroud gives up on the play and finds Schultz on a late safety release to the flat.
Now to the 4th quarter…
The trust and connection between Stroud and Schultz grows week over week and we see another example here. Tampa Bay is in their red zone quarters look with 4 defensive backs even across the goal line. Houston has 11 personnel with 3x2 formation to the field side. Excellent foot work by Schultz on the out break. Stroud has the ball on the way before Schultz makes the break, trusting his receiver to be at the spot, placing where on Schultz can get to it. Schultz makes a fantastic adjustment for the touchdown. Side note…check out the routes (double post) by Collins and Brown on the opposite side. Store that look into the memory bank.
An under discussed play by Will Anderson forcing the incompletion by Mayfield. Coming out of the two minute warning Houston runs a split coverage with Cover 2 zone with Steven Nelson in man press against Mike Evans at the bottom of the screen with Pitre shadowing. Houston did not want to get beat again on a Evans go route. Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin finds a small void on a deep breaking in route at the first down marker.
Will Anderson is chipped by the tight end, and Maliek Collins is working the interior. This is a long developing play allowing Anderson to work through the tackle collapsing the pocket. Anderson gets an arm on Mayfield, just enough to disrupt the throwing motion leading to the incompletion.
Game Winning Throw! Time to recall that double post route concept I asked you to store away. Mike Boone motioned out to the wide boundary to confirm the defense concept being zone. Tampa Bay, again, in their red zone quarters coverage with 4 defensive backs in line. Houston in 11 personnel with 3x2 formation to the field side (bottom). Schultz runs the underneath decoy route to pull the midfield defensive back. Brown is running the inside post to pull coverage from the safety. Dell’s footwork is perfect here, 3 studder step break in for the post route to the open space. Another solid pocket for Stroud by the offensive line including a massive stop by Laremy Tunsil who had to re-anchor to counter a spin move pass rush. Touchdown…game.
Houston’s secondary will need to work on communications with Steven Nelson, Shaq Griffin, and Deandre Houston-Carson for deep coverage for Cincinnati. The pass rush needs to find ways to get home, perhaps Demeco will dial up more stunts and 5 man pass rush looks. I think the run game is a lost cause at this point, leaving the team to use run plays just to drive the play action efforts. Houston’s pass protection continuing will be a huge boost to the Houston pass game. If Houston can replicate the efforts we saw against Tampa Bay, the passing game will be just fine.
Header Image Credit: Getty
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