Football, at all levels, has become ultra-specialized with unique personnel groups, schemes and plays for nearly every situation imaginable. As offenses have evolved, so have defenses, especially with the explosion of passing offenses in the NFL. With the rules intent on truly giving receivers more opportunity to get open, the passing competency in the NFL has grown. As such, more and more teams have spent the majority of the time in sub-package looks, mainly nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs).
The Texans have had moments throughout the year when they've caught opposing teams in a sub-package look and been able to run the ball effectively. Most importantly, the offense did just that to the Indianapolis Colts back in October. And, they'll need to repeat that again on Sunday.
Here's a look at how the Texans ran versus the Colts dime personnel earlier this season when the Colts visited NRG Stadium.
This was a first and ten situation early in the game and the Texans had 11 personnel (one RB, one TE - 3 WR) on the field. As it was first and ten and the Texans had shown a propensity for throwing the ball on first down prior to this matchup , the Colts answered with dime personnel.
Dime linebacker Clayton Geathers is a safety by trade, but in dime, he aligned next to D'Qwell Jackson. The Texans have six blockers with six to block. This is the exact situation that the Texans have to exploit on the ground this weekend.
Ben Jones "zoned off" the defensive tackle Kendall Langford, which was the key. That allowed Brandon Brooks to climb up to the second level and block D'Qwell Jackson. Unfortunately for the Colts, Jackson decided to go underneath Brooks' block and that opened a sizable hole for Arian Foster.
It was important, however, that there was no backside pursuit to help stop this play because Geathers isn't a linebacker and doesn't play that position often.
With Geathers as the backside linebacker, he's not suited to be a run and hit linebacker in run situations. He doesn't have the ability to scrape down the line and find Foster for little to no gain.
Now, he eventually did get to Foster down the field, but that was after a seven yard gain on first down.
With dime personnel on the field, the Colts just didn't have enough bodies in the box to stop the outside zone, not to mention, one of those bodies was a safety. After going back and watching the Texans-Colts from earlier this year, I wanted to know if this remained a problem for the Colts going forward. So, I watched the Colts versus the Jags last week in Jacksonville. Lo and behold, I found something similar.
The Jaguars, like the Texans, called outside zone against the Colts dime. Again, it was on a first down play with 11 personnel.
Let's flip over to the end zone view for the rest of this. The Jaguars, though, ran outside zone to the h-back side, instead of to the weak side as the Texans did.
You can see Geathers, again, next to Jackson against a similar set to what the Texans were in back in October.
Like the Texans, though, the Jags ran outside zone to Jackson's side, forcing Geathers to have to pursue...like a linebacker from the backside. But, Geathers doesn't come close to getting there because the Jags center Stefen Wisniewski climbed up to the second level and pinned Geathers to the inside. In fact the Jaguars backside does a tremendous job of walling or zoning off the backside. You can see…
...in this shot that number 90 Langford and number 42 Geathers are pinned, which opened a substantial crease. Jags runner T.J. Yeldon didn't see the "cutup" lane and stayed to the outside. Even though it was a little more difficult to run outside, Yeldon still found space because there was little to no backside pursuit.
He turned upfield once he got the corner for a five yard gain. It doesn't sound like much, but trust me, if the Texans pick up five yards on each and every first down play on Sunday, they'll win.
The key for them will be to take advantage of this six defensive back "dime" alignment and run the football to set up more advantageous down and distance situations throughout Sunday's game.