Can The Texans Fix Their Run Game?

The Texans run attack is a mess and has been all year as they trail the league in rushing. But why has it become so inept? They were a serviceable attack in 2019. The lack of off-season preparation due to C-19 cannot be accepted, considering last years late arrival of Carlos Hyde. The cut-down-day trade acquired a journeyman running-back who eclipsed 1,000 yards, with zero pre-season preparations.

When considering the sample size of 9 run plays against New England on Sunday. What are the central issues preventing Houston is complimenting its passing attack? As the out dated mantra of running to set up the pass, has been flipped on its head in modern football. So within the context of Watson’s best passing performance of the season, why were they still held to only 19 yards on 13 attempts?

Note, three of these were obvious running plays to kill to the clock, late in the fourth quarter. A further was a failed RPO play that should have been thrown to Fuller deep for an easy 6.

When taking the remaining 9 true/honest run calls: Is there a common theme that can be pinpointed to fix this structural issue faced by Tim Kelly? Is there a scheme of personnel issues at the heart of their plight?

  • Run 1

    Scheme – Pre-Snap, it’s an obvious run look with Brown as the H-Back. Cooks motions towards the formation to block against 8-man box.
    Personnel – Howard footwork is sloppy, blocking the running lane and Cook’s blows his block. Improved execution and this play may get 4 or 5 yards.

  • Run 2

    Scheme – Outside/Stretch Play, in 11-P Grouping – no clear indication pre snap it’s a run play. 6 blockers against a 7 man box.
    Personnel – Duke isn’t able to break to outside as Tytus doesn’t finish the combo block against Guy (93) who makes the tackle. Rod gets thrown to the ground against the DE (50).

  • Run 3

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping appears as an RPO with Watson reading the outside rusher. The TE motioning across the formation this leaves them short on near side and a free run at the back.
    Personnel – Considering Simon (55) is unblocked the line need to slide left. Martin could combo block with Sharping to allow them to seal the B Gap. This would allow the edge to be sealed and free the back to the outside.

  • Run 4

    Scheme – 21-P an obvious run look. 7 on 7 in the box. The line gets no push considering an equal match-up
    Personnel – Not enough juice at the point of attack. Fulton’s block is shed, Duke it too close to the line who’ve barely moved the pile, not able to cut it back with the free backside defender bearing down.

  • Run 5

    Scheme – 12-P inside Power Play. Centre & Fullback to clear the 2nd level. It’s a clear 7 on 7 match up.
    Personnel – Brown misses his block. Both Guards Fail – Sharping loses his footwork and Fulton is overmatched being driven back.

  • Run 6

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Outside-Zone Run, facing a 7 man box
    Personnel – Linemen aren’t athletic enough to get to point of attack to seal the edge fast enough. Rod Johnson gets his angle wrong, panics turns back to the ball. Nick Martin is slow off the snap, to then allow Sharping to move with the flow of the play. Rather than picking up the edge defender and allow Rod to get up on the next level, he contributes little.

  • Run 7

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping Outside Zone to the strong side. WR at the X Spot kills that play, thats set up perfectly.
    Personnel – This play breaks decent yardage if Cooks doesn’t blow his block. Getting a better blocker in that spot/correcting Cook’s attitude towards helping the team then this is reasonable gain.

  • Run 8

    Scheme – 11-P Grouping, Inside Zone/Option Play. The Slot Motions to Strong Side, leaves 5 versus 4 blocking for short gain.
    Personnel – The play is set up well but the lack of push from the line. Sharping doesn’t control the line man once Martin comes of the combo. Martin can’t even clear out a DB. Both Fulton and Howards can’t hold up on a double against Guy (93).

  • Run 9

    Scheme – 12-P Grouping Inside Power Play, FB & C to Clear 2nd level (same as Run 5) but a 6 man box.
    Personnel – Sharping and Martin Botch the combo block. Martin does a mildly better job getting to the DB but Sharping not able to set his stance, loses leverage and Cowart (99) makes the stop.

Scheme verdict – the schematics are overtly vanilla and Tim Kelly needs to better disguise the run fits pre-snap. The use of RPO’s seems to be fundamentally broken down, in terms of player decisions and any ability to fool opposing defences. The Texans need to simplify and refine some of the technique taught and hone in on a variation of a few plays they can master. If they are given the right set up at the line and defensive look, they could benefit form motions, use of pitch plays and QB designed runs. If they stack up the possibilities defences will need to consider be key in creating space, as they can’t do it on a purely talent basis.

Personnel Verdict – Nick Martin and Sharping need to work out, when Martin comes off the Combo-Block to reach the second level how they ensure the rusher remains blocked. As this was an issues on 3 of the 9 plays. They don’t have the talent to run outside zone due to lack of agility and the limited playing strength of the Centre and Guards, limits the leverage to maintain blocks hold or gain push at the line clearing A&B gaps. Brandon Cooks lack of blocking killed two plays so not running to his side would sensible.

Final Thoughts – The running games outlook appears bleak and there are too many issues to fix mid-season. The biggest failing is the coaching of Mike Devlin. These linemen and the unit as a whole have regressed and it’s hurt this team. Being selective when over matching opponents in the box and taking advantage of those looks may be the only way to stay balanced. The run game will have to be redistributed into screens, dump-off and running back routes, to consistently move the ball and be less reliant on the BQ dropping back in the pocket.

The 2021 outlook will need to move on from Fulton and possibly Martin if they can find a way around his 8.75mill cap number. However, assessing these players who’ve been coached so poorly could easily be deemed unfair.

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