[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Houston Texans offense has undergone a substantial shift after the first two weeks of the season. They’ve begun to heavily incorporate play action concepts to help rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson adjust to the NFL. Watson has been about as impressive as a rookie QB can be, and Mark Schofield broke down his eyes through the beginning of his career in a great piece here. Watching the tape of the Texans offense, it’s clear when the shift began to help ease the load on Watson’s shoulders and help clear up some passing lanes for him.
DeShaun Watson had 5 play action passes against the Bengals in Week 2. He’s had 27 over the past two weeks (most in NFL)
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) October 5, 2017
Mike Renner’s tweet above shows when the Texans moved to a more play-action-heavy game plan to help the Clemson product at quarterback. With Watson’s budding success continuing, I wanted to break down some of Houston’s most common play action concepts they’ve used under head coach Bill O’Brien.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Under Center
While Watson operated almost entirely out of the shotgun at Clemson, he’s adjusted quite well to the under center drop back and play action game at the NFL level. A couple of key concepts the Texans have used in their under center game are the Yankee Concept and flood concept.
First, the Yankee concept. It’s a two man passing concept that consists of a post route from one side of the field and a deep dig from the opposite side of the field. In this example from their Week 3 game against the New England Patriots, the Texans will fake a fullback lead play from an offset i-formation utilizing 21 personnel.
The Texans run a max protection Yankee concept, with Deandre Hopkins (#10) running a dig at the bottom of the screen and Bruce Ellington (#12) running a post route at the top of the screen. Tight end Ryan Griffin (#84), FB Jay Prosch (#45) and RB Lamar Miller (#26) stay in to pass block after executing their run fakes.
The Patriots show blitz before the play, thus the max protection call. However, because they’re showing blitz they cannot do much to disguise their coverage, which will be a Cover 3 look for Watson.
Watson knows that after he executes the play fake, the LBs will be sucked down and the dig will be open in the middle of the field. As he hits the fifth step of his drop he turns, checks the linebackers have vacated, and slings it to Hopkins.
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It’s a gain of 13 yards, a fresh set of downs, and a load of confidence for the young QB.
The second example of the Yankee concept comes from the Week 4 contest against the Tennessee Titans. Facing a 1st and 10 at the Titans’ 16 yard line, the Texans once again roll out the Yankee concept off play action, this time from 12 personnel. The Texans have an extra lineman on the field for this play, who stays in to pass block along with Griffin once again. D’Onta Foreman (#27) fakes a dive play before releasing underneath.
Hopkins (#10) runs a post route at the bottom of the screen, and Will Fuller V (#15) runs a crossing route underneath Hopkins, cutting across the field between the linebackers and defensive backs.
The play action opens this play up for Watson as well, and while it’s not as dramatic of an opening as the last play, it’s still a sizeable assist from the defense for Watson. Linebacker Avery Williamson (#54) is sucked down by the play fake for a split second, and as he tries to recover he over pursues Hopkins on the post route. This leaves Fuller and Watson more room to connect on the crosser.
Which they do.
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The final under center concept for the Texans is a fake zone run, with the addition of a fake end around for the play action portion. Passing concept wise, they love to run a flood/sail concept off this fake, with a deep route, a middle crosser and the receiver on the end around fake releasing to the flat.
For example, on this play from the Patriots game, the Texans will set up a sail concept out of 11 personnel. They fake a split zone run to the right, then Watson sells an end around before turning to look downfield for the throw.
The Patriots are running Cover 3 on this play, and both the run fakes end up affecting the second level defenders.
Here’s the offensive and defensive play art:
Watson executes the fakes quite well here, and the linebackers are forced up to respect both of the run possibilities. This leaves Braxton Miller (#13) wide open over the middle of the field on a dig route and Watson delivers.
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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Shotgun
The Texans have also been extremely successful on play action out of the shotgun formation. They tend to take advantage of Watson’s mobility as well, running full bootleg designs and some half roll outs to stress defenders in space.
The first play from the gun is again from the Patriots game. Late in the fourth quarter and facing a 2nd and 9 at the New England 45, the Texans fake an outside zone run to the left before rolling Watson to his right. Bruce Ellington (#12) runs a crossing route from the left slot and Watson’s eyes go right to the South Carolina product in the middle of the field.
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The final play I wanted to look at is from Houston’s Week 5 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Midway through the 4th quarter, trailing by 12 points, and facing a 1st and 10 from their own 25, the Texans roll Watson out from a shotgun formation. They have trips to the left, and TE Ryan Griffin (#84) alone on the right.
Will Fuller V (#15) comes in jet motion in front of Watson heading from left to right, creating a horizontal stress for the defense. Watson then fakes an outside zone run to Lamar Miller (#26), heading back to the left, before booting to the right.
Griffin sells the block on the backside of the zone run before releasing as a checkdown option in front of Watson. Fuller comes out of the jet motion to settle in the flat. This creates a nice little triangle read for Watson, as he can read the two defenders nearby and attack whichever way is left open to him, be it Fuller in the flat, Griffin on the sit down or Watson running it himself if the two defenders decide to cover receivers rather than chase the QB.
Justin Houston (#50) leaves Griffin to attack Watson, and cornerback Marcus Peters (#22) is sitting above Fuller in the flat. That leaves Griffin free on the checkdown, and Watson lofts it over Houston for a gain of 9 yards.
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The Texans record may not be what some expected coming off a 2016 playoff appearance, but the way rookie Deshaun Watson is playing, plus how well head coach Bill O’Brien has adjusted his offense for the Clemson product, should have Texans fans incredibly excited for the future of this franchise.