For stretches of the 2018 season, the Texans defense was the defense we all expected to see on a weekly basis. In December, though, the pass defense started to show some cracks in its armor. Cleveland rookie Baker Mayfield threw three first half interceptions but he threw for a bushel full of yards in the second half in a Texans win over the Browns. The dominant performance in the first half took precedent in most minds, but in a loss to the Colts the next week, back end coverage issues were again an issue. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went on a five-drive spree in the second and third quarters where he dominated the game, throwing the football to anyone wearing a white jersey. Then, the Jets' Sam Darnold had one of his best games of the year and nearly carried his team to a win. We all know what happened with the Eagles and Nick Foles in Philly. By this point, it was clear that the secondary would need to be a focal point for change in 2019 and beyond.
Enter safety Tashaun Gipson.
Enter cornerback Bradley Roby.
We took a look at Gipson a few days ago, so it's time to put the spotlight on Roby, the 31st pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
People have asked me many times over the past couple of days what I think about Roby and the first word that comes to mind is fast.
That seems obvious for a corner in this league, but that speed really pops on tape too. Over the years, we've seen a lot of combine-fast corners that play slow on-field. When I watched Roby in coverage, I saw him do things that the Texans secondary didn't, or couldn't, do in past years. I'll be the first to admit that he did have some ups and downs in 2018, but he's one talented guy with speed and when his technique and athleticism come together, he can certainly be the type of cover corner the Texans need.
Here's a perfect example of what I mean. Roby and the Broncos faced the Rams in Denver last year. The Rams had a 1st-and-10 backed up at their six-yard line. They called a zone play action, max protect, two man route. It's not unlike what the Texans have done with Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins over the past few seasons. Anyhow, Roby is on the right side of the formation matched on speedy Rams star Brandin Cooks.
Cooks was the first option on this play, in large part because the deep over route, or any crossing route, is murder on a cornerback in man coverage with no help. That route is so tough to cover. As such, Rams quarterback Jared Goff faked to his running back and set up behind his right guard in the end zone. Cooks drove up the field and then crossed the field. Roby got in his hip pocket and then ran like, well, you know.
Cooks had a target across the field and 98 percent of the time, with a cornerback on his outside hip, he'd beat that cornerback to the spot. Guaranteed win.
Also, this shot gives you an idea of how much room Cooks had for his route. It's clearly evident how Roby and the Broncos cornerbacks were out on an island. Furthermore, look at the offensive line/defensive front seven. Goff's play fake created a mosh pit of about 15 Rams/Broncos big dudes in front of him.
Now, here's a view from the end zone.
Cooks appeared to be pulling away from Roby at this point…
...but this was actually the part of the play where I really got excited about Roby. I can't emphasize enough how tough this position is on a corner. Roby had outside leverage to start the play to protect that right side of the field, so a crossing/deep over route has an inherent advantage. But, Roby turned up the speed to get in position to make a break on the football.
Roby sprinted in position underneath Cooks to knock away the pass on a staple play for the Rams. That's pure speed, folks.
Roby will be in a "prove it" situation in 2019 and he'll get plenty of opportunity to do just that against some of the best quarterbacks/receivers in the NFL. But, it's not as if he's coming to the dance empty-handed. He's bringing some serious on-field speed to the party, something the Texans lacked throughout the last month of the 2018 season.
Check out some of the best shots of new Texans cornerback Bradley Roby. (Photos via AP Images.)