By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) When opposing defensive coordinators devise their game plans for the Houston Texans, the lion’s share of attention goes to neutralizing running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson. Justifiably so. Foster and Johnson are elite talents who consistently perform and must be accounted for on every play, typically requiring extra help.
However, this extra defensive attention creates single coverage opportunities – particularly off of play-action bootlegs – for other players. This year, the beneficiary has been tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels leads the Texans in receiving touchdowns (5), receptions of 20+ yards (7), and yards after the catch (198).
Daniels isn’t an unknown commodity – he earned All-Rookie Team honors, and a Pro Bowl berth in 2008 – so how is he able to stay under the radar? Aside from Daniels’ crafty route-running, the Texans run the majority of their offense out of base personnel, and both their offensive line and quarterback Matt Schaub do a great job of selling the run on play-action.
Let’s take a closer look at Daniels and the Texans’ play-action naked bootleg packages in this week’s playbook:
The situation: On the opening drive of their Week 5 matchup against the New York Jets, the Texans have the ball 2nd-and-9 from the Jets 34-yard line, and come out in 2RB-2TE-1RB personnel. The Jets counter with their base 3-4 personnel in a 5-2 front. The Texans line Daniels (No. 81 circled in red) up on the line as the “Y” receiver, with Andre Johnson to his left as the “Z” receiver.
The Texans employ a zone-blocking system with their offensive line – which I wrote about in greater detail here – in which the first few seconds of any play look identical, making it more difficult for a defense to read its keys.
From the formation alone, this play looks like it’s going to be a run and the Jets are assuming the same, drawing their safeties – No. 30 LaRon Landry and No. 37 Yeremiah Bell – close to the line of scrimmage.
The Texans run a play-action fake to running back Justin Forsett to the right, and the Jets defense sells out to stop the run. As you’ll see below, there are 10 Jets defenders pursuing the ball carrier, leaving only Antonio Cromartie – not shown in this picture – to defend both Johnson and Daniels (circled in red) on the backside of the play.
Daniels sets Cromartie up with a double move, stemming him to the outside with a fake to the corner.
Daniels then breaks back to the post for an easy pitch-and-catch touchdown.
This was a beautiful play design by Gary Kubiak. The tight formation gave the illusion of a run, and once the Jets – in particular Bell who was supposed to be covering Daniels – over-pursued on the run fake, the integrity of the secondary was broken.
The situation: In their game last week against the Bills, the Texans have the ball 1st-and-10 from the Bills 39-yard line and line up in “Ace” or “21” personnel (2TE-2WR-1RB), and the Bills counter with 4-3 personnel in a Cover-1 (Man Free) look.
Daniels (circled in red) is lined up as the “Y” receiver, and the Texans motion H-Back James Casey down to form a 7-man line, again giving the look of a running formation in a single-back set.
The Texans run play-action to the right, with wide receiver Kevin Walters stemming inside on the post, and Andre Johnson running an inside dig route. This creates congestion in the middle of the defense, as the run action is going to the left of the defense, as the receivers cross to the right of the defense. Meanwhile, Daniels slowly drags across the defense.
The Bills single-high safety opens his hips to the right, following Walter and Johnson, while Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham (blue rectangle) is playing trail man technique on Daniels.
Bradham’s eyes follow Schaub as he rolls out to his left, and he opens his hips to the right completely losing Daniels in the process. Daniels turns up the field on a vertical route and Schaub is left with a huge passing window to drop the ball in for an easy touchdown.
This is yet another example of the Texans creating a play-action opportunity down the field out of a tight formation, crossing up the defense in the process.
Daniels is currently dealing with a hip injury, but is expected to play. Brian Urlacher said Thursday that the Bears don’t scheme for tight ends, but they’ll need to be aware of where Daniels is on the field. They must resist the temptation to flow to the ball carrier, as Schaub is deadly off of play-action. The Texans’ offense gives the defense very few keys to read before the snap, so this is going to be one fun chess match to watch unfold on Sunday night.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.