There's little doubt that Houston's 20-6 win over the Tennessee Titans last Sunday was cemented by a tremendous defensive performance. The numbers more than prove how dominant the defense was in Week 8.
14 quarterback hits.
2 turnovers forced (one on special teams)
Just over 200 yards total offense allowed.
8 percent third down conversion allowed.
The unit was that dominant on Sunday and it set a new expectation for the next eight games.
The offense wasn't as explosive or dominant, but it had a handful of moments of excellence and one of those was a 21-yard touchdown throw from Brian Hoyer to DeAndre Hopkins.
Most people saw an accurate throw and a brilliant catch, but what most didn't see was the key to the play. As I watched the play develop from my spot on the sideline, I had my eyes on the pass protection, but, most importantly, on RB Chris Polk. I certainly didn't regret that decision to watch him, as it more than paid off. Let me explain.
Over the years, I've talked a lot about what offenses can do to slow down explosive, havoc-wreaking pass rushers. Drafting a stud left or right tackle helps, but it isn't always the answer (see Tennessee's first round left tackle on Sunday). Double-teaming said rusher with a tight end can work, but it needs the right personnel. Using an uncovered, interior lineman to move out and help the tackle works a bit too, but sometimes that can't happen if the defense is A/B gap blitz happy.
One method that also works well is the chip block. Essentially, when the RB's pass route takes him near an edge pass rusher, the RB will throw a shoulder into the rusher before he completes his route. That's called "chipping" on the rusher. If all the running back does is just slow the rusher to provide a half second of time, it's worth it. Especially so, because the RB still gets out to his route, typically either a flat route to the sideline or an angle, circle route back to the middle. If he can CHIP that rusher before he gets there, it helps to see that pass to its fruition.
On the Hopkins touchdown, running back Chris Polk gave a clinic on how a chip block works.
The Texans came out in 11 personnel (Polk at RB, Fiedorowicz at TE), aligned in a 2x2 set.
Let's turn our attention to the end zone shot at this point and focus on the interior where Polk did his work.
As the ball was snapped, you'll see immediately that Polk darted to his left as if he was going to run a flat route to the sideline. And, he did...eventually.
But, before he got into his route, Polk realized that Orakpo was in his way, so he delivered a blow with his inside shoulder.
He's a bit hidden in that picture, but trust me…
...he made contact. Look at how Orakpo was lifted off the ground on that collision. Stellar.
Polk completely spun Orakpo around, a full 360. As I said, I saw that block live as I was watching the line of scrimmage and not the routes. Once Polk made contact, I just let out a huge "WHOOOOOOO", knowing full well he caught Orakpo pretty good. We've seen the Texans rushers take some shots from running backs on chip blocks this season, but now it was Polk's turn to flip the script.
The key was that Polk made that block all the while staying on his flat route path. You can see he's on his way to the flat to complete his route/assignment as Orakpo was still spinning on his pass rush.
By the time Orakpo collected himself to make any forward movement, LT Duane Brown was waiting in perfect position to keep the Titans OLB away from Hoyer.
Hoyer then dropped a dime on Hopkins who needed a little bit of time to get downfield after using a double move (out and up) on CB Jason McCourty. That's why the chip block was so important. Hoyer needed an extra half second to sell the out, while Hopkins then turned it up for the end zone.
The sacks, touchdowns and tackles are easy to see, but sometimes the key to the play is hidden in the intricate details we don't find. Polk's chip block was THE key to this play, but there's no stat to measure that at all. Trust me, I'd have given him a helmet sticker for that block; hopefully, this piece serves as a virtual one, if nothing else.