Being one of the top five passing offenses in the league is definitely a double edged sword. It means, more than likely, the team is trailing in games. But, it also means that the passing game execution has been relatively high. The execution part was on full display against the Colts late in the third quarter after an Arian Foster first down run.
The Texans hit on some chunk plays throughout the night and no one play was more important than the Hail Mary touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong. But, a key play on a third quarter touchdown drive exemplified how the Texans passing game exploited the Colts secondary. DeAndre Hopkins should NEVER be able to run free through any defense's secondary but he did on first down in the third quarter. It resulted in a 34 yard gain down to the 10-yard line, just two plays prior to Strong's second receiving touchdown.
Hopkins aligned to the left side of the formation as the Texans came out in a 2x2 passing formation. Keith Mumphery lined up in the slot to the opposite side with Strong aligned as the number one receiver outside of him. The Colts were in nickel anticipating pass and all but daring the Texans to run the ball against their nickel personnel. The Texans didn't need to run on this down and you'll see why in a second.
Once the ball was snapped, it was clear that Colts nickel cornerback Darius Butler was going to track Mumphery all over the field, clearly in man coverage no matter what. Mumphery and Hopkins ran similar crossing routes, but one did it from the slot (Mumphery) and one from a perimeter position (Hopkins).
Strong ran a takeoff up the numbers to clear cornerback Greg Toler out of the area.
It's difficult to tell what exactly the Colts coverage was on this play in large part due to Colts CB No. 21 Vontae Davis. My guess is that Colts were in some sort of cover 3 pattern match concept. Given the fact that Hopkins bent his route to the middle of the field before crossing over, Davis may have believed that either safety Dwight Lowery would jump on the crossing route. It's clear, based on Toler and Davis' release - they zone turn rather than man turn - that's not 100% man or man free. So, my guess is Davis expected Lowery to pick up on the route as Hopkins cleared to the other side. But, Lowery stayed in the middle of the field, seemingly playing a deep middle third coverage. Hard to know exactly which guy was most at fault but Hopkins didn't get passed off properly. Thankfully.
The most impressive aspect of this whole play was WHEN QB Brian Hoyer released the football. Check out when he reached back to throw the ball. He threw that ball BEFORE Hopkins had actually cleared Mumphery as the two routes meshed in the middle of the field. Hoyer saw Toler run with Strong and Lowery stayed in the middle of the field. So, no one was in the vicinity of Hopkins and Hoyer knew it.
He didn't need to throw Hopkins open, but he did.
Easy completion. 34 yard gain. TD two plays later.
The Colts may have been their own worst enemy in coverage, but the Texans passing game concept was sound, no matter whether the Colts played the coverage perfectly. Execution is the key word and we've seen it more so in the Texans passing game than any other area.
In celebration of his 23rd birthday, take a look at the best 23 photos of DeAndre Hopkins' career as a Houston Texan.