What a win that was in Denver!
As with each and every game, there are always a few nuggets in the film and hopefully I can point out a few to you.
But you're an astute, intelligent football fan and I know that because you're taking the time to read my crazy film review. So, let's go put the film on, Bro...Texans v. Broncos style.
Playing nickel/dime v. run game
When the Texans are in nickel and dime, a concern of mine is that opposing offenses will check to a
The Houston Texans take on the Denver Broncos in Denver for Preseason Game 3.
run, to J.J. Watt's side. Well, Broncos QB Peyton Manning picked up on it. It sounds great on the surface for a team to run right at Watt, but the Broncos didn't run one time on the only drive Watt played without getting two helmets on him, at a minimum. The Broncos checked to power runs and Watt took the pounding. He can take that heat, but it does mean S D.J. Swearinger must play it as physical as a linebacker. He MUST attack like an inside linebacker when he's aligned at that inside spot in sub-packages to make teams think twice about that run game philosophy. Worst case, though, for teams is that they double Watt every play. I'd do it. Make someone else beat me.
Practice makes permanent
During the last two days of practice, Manning took Montee Ball and Emmanuel Sanders down to the end of the field to work with them individually during a ten minute defensive team period. More on Sanders later, but nearly every route that Ball ran in that period, he executed vs. the Texans first unit on the first drive. He caught four passes alone on the first drive and all I could think about was "teacher's pet".
The Texans defensive backs must, MUST, get out of the habit of catching receivers in their routes. Nearly every DB not named Kareem Jackson literally caught receivers with their hands/body instead of keeping their feet hot and running/matching the receiver's route.
He's not all the way there but he played a much more violent game than I've seen from him. He
attacked tight ends and used the technique I've seen LB coach Mike Vrabel pound into his head over and over and over. On a night when opportunity roared wide open with Jadeveon Clowney out of the game, he stepped into the void a few times. He led the team in tackles but that wasn't the biggest aspect - it was the more violent nature with which he played that position.
A Rookie in name only
Heading into the 2013 CFB season, I said that former Ohio State CB Bradley Roby was the second most talented defensive player I saw on film. We all know who was number one (hint...he wears 90 for your Texans) but I knew he had loads of potential. He didn't play up to it in 2013 but he flashed enough for the Broncos to make him a number one pick at the bottom of the first round.
He's back to playing like that player I saw on film in 2012. His technique is excellent for a young player. On the first play of the game, he was in a trail man technique on Andre Johnson and played the ball perfectly. He took the proper angle to interrupt the route and knocked away the pass. Later in the game, he was in proper position to knock away another pass and just barely missed making an interception.
Heads on swivels
I've harped on this before, it's real easy as an underneath defender to get lost watching the QB on
pass plays. The problem is that the QB knows that if you're watching him, he's got you dead to rights. No matter who's playing the ILB positions, he MUST have his head on a swivel. I know that Swearinger isn't totally accustomed to playing pass routes just yet from the ILB spot, but he must see routes and understand the combinations behind him. He was caught in between being too aggressive (guessing on routes) and too passive (watching the QB). That'll come in time, I believe.
When Justin Tuggle got dinged up early in the second quarter, rookie Max Bullough entered the game. The Broncos ran blast right at him with stud guard Louis Vasquez man on man. Bullough struck the Pro Bowler, shed him easily and helped make the tackle. That was a man's play, wow!
As far as cover two technique goes, CB A.J Bouye and S Swearinger played it about as brilliantly as it could be played. The Broncos ran play action and only had three in the route. Manning eyed the one receiver side the entire way. Bouye, with no underneath threat, sunk underneath the corner route by Emmanuel Sanders and Swearinger "got off his hash" and played over the top. Manning thought he could squeeze it into the "hole" but there was no room because it was played perfectly.
Anatomy of a Drive...following the pick, Second quarter Texans drive
Play 1 - "Windback" counter action...LT Duane Brown and LG Xavier Su'a-Filo hammer Sylvester Williams creating space. The counter action set up a better blocking angle on the linebacker for CJ Fiedorowicz. Grimes ran five yards before he's touched.
Result: Six yard gain
Play 2 - Quick out to Grimes...Broncos in a zone dog, dropped Pot Roast Knighton into coverage. Broncos DL Derek Wolfe nearly beat Su'a-Filo to the QB but Fitzpatrick drilled one to Grimes in the
nick of time. ILB Nate Irving nearly picked it off but Grimes held on, got up and then sprinted upfield for a huge gain.
Result: 24 yard gain
Play 3 - Naked bootleg...Fitzpatrick played pitch and catch easily to a wide open Fiedorowicz for another first down.
Result: 12 yard gain
Play 4 - Zone BOB (back on backer)...FB Jay Prosch led through the hole with a crushing block, but Grimes saw that RT Derek Newton had leverage on DE Quanterus Smith so he bounced quickly outside. Smart run, explosive run.
Result: Nine yard gain
Play 5 - Double "layered" outs...Fitzpatrick had Grimes at the first down marker to draw the CB. Fiedorowicz ran the deeper out on the same side with the LB on his hip to the far back pylon. Fitzpatrick hit a wide open Fiedorowicz for a TD on that exact play during practice on Tuesday. This time, Irving had great coverage and Fitzpatrick had no room to make the throw.
Result: Incomplete (15 yard penalty on XSF for a face mask - got blown back and then grabbed a face mask unintelligently)
Play 6 - Straight drop, curl route with RB wheel...great protection, perfect window, great route - pitch and catch to DeAndre Hopkins on the curl.
Result: 12 yard gain
Play 7 - Trips clear out, shallow under to Johnson...Roby made a ridiculously good break through all the traffic. If Roby was lazy, Dre would've walked into the end zone, but Roby met Dre right as he caught the ball and kept him short of a first down.
Result: Three yard gain
Play 8** - 4th and 1...Power kick...Prosch drilled the contain man on the right side, while Newton and Fiedorowicz doubled the DE off the ball. RB Alfred Blue then ran through the CB for the first down.
Result: Four yard gain.
Play 9 - Zone BOB/Isolation...a couple of key blocks. First, Pot Roast was all the way in a 2i (inside eye of the guard) and C Ben Jones cut him, a nearly impossible block against a man that size. Su'a-Filo who struggled a bit against DT Malik Jackson stood up the Bronco with sheer strength at the goal line. RG Brandon Brooks hammered the backside LB while LT Duane Brown and Prosch took Irving on into the end zone. The only unaccounted for defender, the safety, nearly made the play but Grimes ran through him just enough to score the first TD of the night.
Result: One yard TOUCHDOWN.
I chose to break that drive down because it was a versatile, physical and statement inducing drive, executed at its finest. It established that the Texans have a new identity and I sensed when the players came off the field that it meant a ton to them to stick it right at the Broncos the way they did.
He might've been just a bargain basement pick up in the offseason, but mark my words, this man will be a factor in this defensive line rotation. He picked up a sack on a beautifully executed twist stunt with Brooks Reed on the Broncos first drive and then picked up a TFL playing a zone run away from him properly on a later drive. Then, and this was the best part, he delivered a SHOT to the running back. It wasn't enough to just get there; you make a big man run at all he's going to make a RB pay. Mathews did. He just keeps improving now that he's out semi-permanently at defensive end with Louis Nix back healthy.
Speaking of Nix
I made a comment to Marc Vandermeer during the week at the Broncos practice facility that I didn't think Nix would be ready for a while. Boy, was I wrong. From field level, I thought he played a whale of a game for a guy playing his first NFL snaps. He drew a holding penalty on one play. He stoned C/G at the LOS on a handful of plays. It was truly a positive sign that he's close to contributing when September 7 rolls around.
Manning to Sanders, Part 1
I'll be honest, I'm not 1,000% sure what the coverage was as I can't see it on the TV copy but it looked like quarters coverage. But the one thing I do know as a former safety is with 1:15 left, keep all different colored jerseys in plain sight in front of you. Similar to the route earlier that Bouye picked off, Manning had a corner route to the one receiver side, but this time he wanted the post to Sanders on the two receiver side. Once Sanders started vertical, Bouye was responsible for him and Chris Clemons, the safety to that side, was responsible for Wes Welker in the slot.
That said, the backside safety Eddie Pleasant could've been the key player on the play. Sure, Bouye may have been responsible but that's a throw the backside safety should be in position to assist.
When the single side receiver broke to the out, Pleasant could've immediately gotten depth and looked up routes from the other side of the field. There were no other routes near him, so I'm not sure what he saw, felt or thought. Either way, Manning was pretty clear with what he wanted to do on that route and there's no way Pleasant should've been so shallow. It's a tough route for Bouye to cover and Sanders truly had a two way go - if Bouye jumped inside, Sanders would've stayed on a 9-route path. If Bouye stayed outside, as he did, he ran the post. Bouye was supposed to stay on top of that route, but that's a lot easier than it sounds, especially v. a guy that runs a legit 4.3. That's where Pleasant could've helped and not allowed Manning the room on that side of the field to drop that beautiful throw behind him.
Manning to Sanders, Part 2
After getting the ball back and after Swearinger's infamous 15 yard penalty, the Broncos had ten seconds to work with, ball on the 29 yard line. The Broncos are in a 2x2 formation, with two receivers to each side. The Texans are in what appears to be Tampa two - cover two with ILB running down the middle to help on a TE seam route, in particular. Sanders was the No. 1 receiver and he ran a stutter and go. Now, against a cover two shell, that route shouldn't work. But, Pleasant was late getting off the hash, in large part due to the fact that he stayed a split second too long on the seam route by TE Julius Thomas. The problem was that ILB Jeff Tarpinian ran down the middle and gave help to
Pleasant on the inside. He could "cheat" to any throw into the boundary because Tarp gave some inside assistance. Now, Manning didn't throw a better ball all night long. Looking at it again, both CB gave ground instead of playing a true rolled up CB cover two technique. Had Bouye gotten a jam on Sanders, I'm convinced that he doesn't get to the route and there was no play. But, Sanders ran relatively unimpeded into the end zone and the throw was on the money. Was it a technique issue for Bouye - did he play it too soft? Did Pleasant play it improperly, not respecting the fact that he had help inside? Did Manning and Sanders just execute better? Probably some truth to all of the above.
The Savage Drive...for lack of a better name
If, and when, Tom Savage gets an opportunity to be a starting QB in the NFL, last Saturday will be the
moment many look back upon as THAT moment when it clicked. Throughout the week, I truly thought he looked as comfortable and confident as I'd ever seen him and I've seen him play since he was a true freshman at Rutgers. But, throughout practices and workouts with the Broncos, he made one tremendous throw after another and that work paid off. Here's how his drive for a game winner went.
Play 1 - Zone stretch to the left...RB William Powell didn't read the cutup lane back across center and the edge/contain player blew hard upfield. Powell knew he was late to make the read and was dead in the water.
Result: One yard loss.
Play 2 - Three step quick out...Savage hit WR Alec Lemon - good ball, good catch
Result: Seven yard gain
Play 3 - Quick game, option route to Labhart...the rookie receiver read zone and settled in between the two second level defenders for the catch. Savage stared down the blitz and delivered the ball quickly for a first down.
Result: Six yard gain.
Play 4 - Zone stretch...Powell made the right read this time, sprinting decisively up behind the center for a solid gain on first down.
Result: Seven yard gain.
Play 5 - Zone again...stuffed - RT didn't stay on block and that defender made the play.
Result: No gain.
Play 6** - Three step vs. man coverage...Savage's only incompletion on the drive. He wanted WR Lacoltan Bester up the right sideline, but the Broncos CB made a whale of a pass break up.
Play 7 - Three step again...Broncos brought five and the OL/RB picked it up for the most part. Labhart, knowing he had man coverage with a two way go. He sold the quick flat route and the safety bit too hard on that route. Once Labhart knew he had the DB on his outside hip, he burst back to the middle and Savage hit him, a little behind him for key first down on fourth down.
Result: Six yard gain and huge first down.
Play 8 - Key here is the time it took to get back to the LOS...Savage had the team back at the line and executing the play within 14 seconds...5 step, Savage had Griffin on an option route. Griffin broke away from the LB and caught a dart between the 8 and the 4 in front of the CB. That ball left an imprint.
Result: Eight yard gain
Play 9 - Again, back up at the LOS ready to run the play w/in 15 seconds...the Broncos brought the blitz, off the edge this time. But, it didn't matter as Savage eyed Griffin from the beginning. Griffin was covered by former college DE, adjusting to OLB Kenny Anunike and Griffin made him look like a former college DE, adjusting to OLB. Griffin drove hard to Anunike's outside number, then when he got to the top of the numbers on the field, he swam back to the inside and Anunike was grabbing at air. Savage delivered a strike and Griffin was history.
Result: 29 yard TOUCHDOWN
Play 10 - 2-point conversion (after a TO to calm everyone down)...after I saw this play on film, I couldn't help but recall an episode of ESPN U's Film Room from this past January. Just prior to taking the Houston Texans job, O'Brien went to Bristol and joined Matt Millen and crew for a breakdown of Florida State and Auburn as those two teams readied for the BCS National Championship game. One thing I remember distinctly about that visit was Coach O'Brien breaking down how Florida State executed a traditional bunch pass route from a non-traditional bunch set. He explained perfectly that even if players aren't in a traditional three person bunch set, the offense can still get to the bunch route spots and have the same effect by using the RB in the backfield. The exact play O'Brien explained for the TV viewers was similar to the one he called for the two point play. Griffin ran to the far pylon while Powell, from the backfield, ran a flat route at the goal line. Labhart let those two clear and then ran for a spot just beyond the goal line and settled up. He's not the first option and may not be the second, but Savage made sure he got him the ball, no matter what option he was. Dart. Ball game.
Result: Savage to Labhart again...two point conversion good.
We'll see you again next week. Thanks for reading.