You may not expect to find Mark Schofield breaking down a sequence of plays from a battle of 1-4 teams, but in the game between Houston and Jacksonville, the Texans quickly turned a three-point game into a double-digit lead. Over the short drive, the film showed just how thin the line can be between making a big defensive play – and giving up a touchdown.
Following a Jaguars’ punt and a solid return by Keith Mumphrey, the Texans set up for first down on their own 47-yard line. Brian Hoyer is under center with 12 offensive personnel on the field. Houston has trips on the right, with tight ends on the line in a dual-wing alignment and second-year wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (#10) to the outside. Cecil Shorts (#18) is a single receiver split to the left. The Jaguars have their base 4-3 defense in the game, with linebacker Dan Skuta (#55) lined up on the line outside of the left tackle, and safety Jonathan Cyprien (#37) down in the box to the outside of the wing TE:
Hoyer opens to the right side before faking a counter to Arian Foster (#29) to the left side. On the outside, Shorts releases to the inside on a vertical stem, before bending back to the sideline on a very deep corner route. Hopkins runs a deep crossing route.
The Jaguars run Cover 3, but look to execute a “Mable” or matching concept to try and cover the 3X1 alignment:
With the outside vertical release clearing out the sideline, any route that enters that zone will find vacant space. Therefore, linebacker Paul Posluszny (#51) will read the release of Shorts, and if he breaks vertically he will then turn to the other side of the field to react to, and match, the routes cutting over the middle.
This is exactly what happens:
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The LB watches the play for a moment before starting to drop into pass coverage. Once he recognizes the vertical release from Shorts, he wheels his head to the trips side of the formation and identifies Hopkins crossing over the middle. The LB turns to run with the WR coming across the play, but Hopkins is able to get just enough leverage inside of Posluszny:
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Hoyer puts the throw low, but Hopkins is able to get to the turf and secure the ball for a quick 20-yard gain.
On the second play of the drive, the Texans turn to Foster in the ground game. Houston has 11 offensive personnel on the field, in a 2X2 formation with slot to the right and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (#87) in a wing on the left. The Jaguars bring in a sub 4-2-5 package and show Cover 1 in the secondary:
On the wing, the offense sets up the jet sweep well. Rookie WR Jaelen Strong (#11) blocks down on Cyprien, who is in the box over the wing TE. As the receiver blocks to the inside, the tight end loops around to block cornerback Dwayne Gratz (#27):
Defensive tackle Roy Miller (#97) lines up in the A gap between center Ben Jones (#60) and right guard Derek Newton (#72). At the snap these two players execute a combo block on the DT, with Newton looking to scrape up to Posluszny. Right tackle Chris Clark (#74) has defensive end Andre Branch (#90) to the outside of him, and the RT uses the wide alignment from the DE against him and rides Branch to the outside. This leave LB Telvin Smith (#50) unblocked. But the jet sweep action draws his attention:
At the moment Foster takes the handoff, look at both Colvin and Smith. The DB and LB are both trained on Mumphrey, who is doing a good job of carrying out the fake. As Hoyer gives his RB the ball, the center and right guard are engaged on the DT, with Newton looking to disengage and handle Posluszny. If the RG works to the second level, the Texans have a chance at a big play.
But he cannot get there:
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Miller does a tremendous job of maintaining leverage on the center and, by extension, the guard, preventing Newton from making a block on the LB. You can see how the DT uses his entire body, upper and lower, to maintain contact on both Jones and Newton and keep his linebacker free on this play. This allows Posluszny to scrape down the line of scrimmage and stop Foster after a four-yard gain.
The Texans now face a 2nd and 6 at the Jacksonville 29-yard line. They line up with 21 offensive personnel on the field, in an i-formation using slot to the right. The Jaguars bring their base 4-3 back into the game, using a stack front:
Jacksonville lines up with Cover 2 in the secondary. This leaves Mumphrey, the slot receiver, uncovered at the snap. The safety to his side of the field is in the standard Cover 2 alignment against the slot, matched over the #2 receiver and ready to drop to the top of the numbers as he gains depth in his zone.
The Texans have a running play called, with Foster on the lead run to the right. But when Hoyer sees this defensive alignment, he makes an adjustment, and flips the ball to the slot WR on a quick screen:
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Notice how the linemen and the running backs start blocking for the running play as the ball is thrown to the outside. In many offenses, when a quarterback notices that a receiver is uncovered before the play, he can make a “sight” or “pause” adjustment and get the ball out quickly to the uncovered receiver. That is exactly what the Texans do here. But cornerback Davon House (#31) and safety Josh Evans (#26) defend this well. House is able to establish leverage on the blocking attempt by Hopkins, and forces Mumphrey to cut to the inside. Evans, who begins this play 12 yards off the line of scrimmage, races forward and executes a solid open-field tackle on the WR.
Looking at the end zone angle, watch the right arm of Hoyer before the snap:
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Right before the play begins, the QB pulls his right arm behind him and pats himself on the butt. This could be nothing, it could be an itch, or it could be the indication that the quick screen was coming. Either way, Hoyer tries to catch the Jaguars napping, but House and Evans are up to the task and hold this to a three-yard gain.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, House is not as effective on third down. Needing three yards for the first, the Texans line up with trips formation to the left and the tight end to the right, using 11 offensive personnel. The Jaguars have their 4-2-5 package in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary. Cyprien walks down into the box right over the TE:
Hopkins, lining up as the outside trips receiver, runs a vertical route against House. The inside two trips receivers cross, with Mumphrey cutting inside and then running a pivot route, while Strong runs a deep crossing route. On the backside, Fiedorowicz runs a seam route while Foster executes a wheel route along the sideline.
House is lined up against Hopkins in press alignment. At the snap, the CB decides not to jam the WR, but as Hopkins releases to the outside House opens his hips to the sideline to run with him. About seven yards into the route, the WR shifts his head and body ever so slightly to the middle of the field, faking a cut to the inside. This fake (and slight contact between WR and CB) is enough to create separation when Hopkins accelerates back to the outside:
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House tries to catch-up, but Hoyer drops the throw in perfectly, and the WR runs under the pass for the touchdown.
The TD pushed the Texans’ lead to 24-14, and they would add another touchdown on the next play from scrimmage when Andre Hal returned a Blake Bortles interception for a score. But this four-play drive sealed the Jaguars’ fate, letting the Texans extend their lead – and demonstrates just how small the margin of error is on a given play (or four) in the NFL.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.