Breaking Down the Texans Offensive Struggles

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Rams vs. Texans (By Draft)

Before you exit the article, I am not saying that the Rams are the Texans biggest competitor. Unfortunately as of now, the Texans have no business being in that conversation; the Rams are far superior. This is rather to prove that their head coach’s inability to be creative is the most important thing for the offense to overcome.

Bill O’Brien has been struggling to call plays since he took over offensive play calling duties from George Godsey in 2016. With dynamic pieces on offense, this team desperately needs a creative mind calling plays. The chart above shows a couple positions on offense for each of the two teams and where they were drafted. While not perfect, each player’s drafted position should be a pretty good depiction of their talent level. While each player is different, and some players develop later, or don’t develop at all, team’s do their due diligence to be as accurate in drafting as possible.

The biggest differences in talent level on the field between the Rams and Texans roster are running back, receivers and offensive line. Gurley was drafted 10th overall, while Lamar Miller was a fourth round selection. The results seem appropriate. The Texans receivers have been good this season but the Rams receivers have become one of the best trios in recent memory. In terms of offensive line, both teams have a combination of low draft picks. According to Football Outsiders, for run blocking, the Rams offensive line ranks first in the league. The Texans sit at 25th. Move on to pass blocking, and the Rams slide to 9th, while the Texans slide to 30th.

The Rams are averaging just under 80 more yards per game, as well as scoring 61 more points on the season. I have a hard time believing that this is truly based off the Texans talent level. So, let’s take a look at why Bill O’Brien should, at the very least, relinquish play calling duties.

NextGen Season Stats

Quarterback

Starting with Deshaun Watson, he’s looked pretty good so far. He sits top 10 in passing yards per game and he’s thrown 9 touchdowns on the season. There are two glaring issues with his game. The first is his time to throw, which looks at how long it takes him from snap to throw. Brady and Brees average 2.55 seconds, and Rodgers, who notoriously holds on to the ball for a long time averages 2.87. Watson, behind the 30th best pass blocking offensive line averages 3.1 seconds. The second issue is that he’s thrown at least one interception in every game this season.

Running Backs

Next we move on to running back. The most important thing we’ll look at is how often the other team puts 8 or more defenders in the box. Generally teams can do this when they’re not afraid of a quarterback beating them through the air. For that reason, the top two running backs facing eight or more defenders in the box are Royce Freeman of Denver and Alex Collins of the Ravens. Of the running backs who dominate their team’s snaps, Lamar Miller faces an eight defender box at a bottom five rate in the league.

Wide Receivers

At receiver, the Texans have three very good receivers. DeAndre Hopkins averages almost 40 percent of the team’s air yards, which is comparable to other superstar receivers like Beckham, Jones, Green and Thielen. Will Fuller’s average targeted air yards is top 10 in the league at just over 15, and new rookie receiver Keke Coutee is getting a league best 4.6 yards of separation on his route running.

Tight Ends

The tight ends have been very lightly utilized so far this season, but since the Texans added Coutee as a target in week 4, the leading tight end in each respective game has averaged 6.12 yards of separation, which with more targets would lead the league in separation among qualified players.

NextGen Game Breakdowns

With all the success in these statistics at each individual position, the Texans should be able to produce at one of the best rates in the NFL. This isn’t the case though. The offense is only scoring 22.5 points per game, good for 21st in the NFL, and this includes two games that went deep into overtime.

The easy thing to do would be to blame the offensive line. The reality of the situation though is they have the offensive line that they do, and while it’s not ideal, it’s manageable. The issues lie way deeper in the play calling than they do on the offensive line.

Week 4

In referencing offensive success, we’ll start in week 4, once the Texans finally found their third weapon. They had their best offensive output of the season by putting up 37 points against the Colts. In this game, the Texans had 27 running back carries and 42 passing attempts. Watson had success going up the middle of the field, finishing with 176 yards and a touchdown on targets up the middle. Blue and Miller had relative success running to the right side of the line, averaging 3.5 yards per carry rather than 2.1 while running at the left, Coutee had 5.17 average yards of separation, finishing the game with 11 receptions and over 100 yards. Tight end Ryan Griffin averaged 7.17 yards of separation and was targeted once.

Week 5

Now sitting at 1-3, the Texans came into a primetime game against the Cowboys with hopes of climbing closer to .500. Watson had more success targeting the middle of the field, finishing with 181 yards on 13/14 throwing. Here, Watson had 44 pass attempts, while the Texans rushed the ball 21 times. Coutee had 4.59 yards of separation and finished with 51 receiving yards. Rookie tight end Jordan Akins averaged 5.64 yards of separation and had one reception for 9 yards. Starting tight end Ryan Griffin had 6 receptions while only averaging 2.26 yards of separation. The Texans only managed 19 points on the night in a win.

Week 6

Entering a game against the Bills, the Texans had expectations to improve to 3-3. Watson had his best throws while targeting in between 10 and 20 yards, but still worked over the middle of the field better than either side. He only had 25 pass attempts while they ran the ball 22 times. The running backs only averaged 3.27 yards per carry. The best route runner of the day was Akins who created 5.57 yards of separation, but only catching one ball for six yards.

Play Calling

In the new day and age of the NFL, the Texans offense is simply lacking creativity. While the Rams and Chiefs are taking over the NFL with innovative play calls to run for their dynamic receivers and star running back, the Texans are calling plays as if it’s 2002. The Texans don’t have the luxury of a great offensive line, and they don’t have a running back on the level of Gurley or Hunt, but they have as electric a quarterback as anyone else in the league, and their receiving weapons are up there too.

The Rams run the ball more than anyone else in the NFL, but the Texans sit at 10 while the Chiefs are 17th. The Texans by no means should be carrying the ball more than 22 other teams. Neither Miller or Blue are in the upper echelon of the league talent wise, and combine that with the talent on the offensive line and the result is both of them sitting below 4.0 yards per carry.

In the three games that NextGen stats were brought up, the Texans have ran the ball 38.6 percent of the time. This isn’t a bad rate, but on first down that percentage creeps closer to even. The Texans have passed the ball 52 percent of the time on first down from week 4 to week 6 for 18 first downs and the runs have cumulated to 2 first downs.

The Texans must stick to what works, or be so unpredictable that it’s too difficult to gather film to gameplan defensively. The problem lies in the fact that their playbook is a rotation of the same plays, and generally, they aren’t the explosive plays either. With shifty Coutee and speedy Fuller as two of the three wideouts, the Texans should be running screen passes or quick hitters to get playmakers out in space with speed rather than presumably picking up no more than a few yards on a carry.

Running the ball on the occasion is important because throwing the ball on every single play would be too easy to gameplan for, but they should definitely lower the rate at which they run the ball. By running quick pass plays on first down instead it will allow for the sticks to actually be on the move, and it will give the Texans offense more of a surprise factor, being able to run a variety of routes within ten yards with several weapons rather than running between the tackles of a porous offensive line. As ineffective as Miller and Blue have been, this is a product of the offensive line more than it is the running back abilities.

The Texans should also shift rookie tight end Jordan Akins into a starting role. Akins is already 26 years old and at 6’3 and 250 pounds he has the frame to be another weapon on the offense. Griffin is a decent pass catcher and an alright blocker but a tight end can only help on the line as a blocker if the other offensive linemen aren’t giving up pressures on what feels like every snap. Akins is a former wide receiver who is a better route runner and pass catcher than Griffin. Allow him to develop his blocking at this point in the season with this offensive line because frankly, it can’t get worse and his ceiling of being a dynamic weapon is much higher down the road. Regardless, it is absolutely essential that the tight ends get some more targets moving forward because they are getting open with ease.

The red zone play has been abysmal. With the pieces of this offense, as well as a mobile quarterback, there is no way this offense should be converting less than 35 percent of their red zone trips. On the season so far, they have ran the ball with their running backs 16 times in the red zone, picking up one score, and only two other carries went for more than five yards. It’s not working, but they keep going back to it. They need to bring some deception with their weapons, and they need to use Coutee to come across the formation regularly which will allow them to determine whether the defense is running man or zone coverage.

Lastly, O’Brien is sending playmakers into the wrong spots to try catch the defense by surprise. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Bills while down a field goal, the Texans ran a pass play on 2nd & 15 with Fuller out wide on his own side and Coutee lined up wide left with Hopkins in the slot. There’s a difference between offensive creativity and misutilization. Coutee has the speed to break a play loose over the middle of the field, while Hopkins has the body control and high point ability to make a play down the sideline, but instead both of their best attributes were hindered.

Conclusions

This seems to be a common occurrence with the Texans this year. The offensive personnel is incredibly talented and with only upgrades coming at just about every position last offseason, there should be no reason that the players aren’t performing to their capabilities.

It is just that though, the players aren’t performing to their capabilities. While it can be blamed on the offensive line, or defenses preparing for Watson with tape that was not available last year, it would be incorrect to do so. The players are doing what they can to move the chains and put points on the board, it’s head coach Bill O’Brien who does not do a good enough job of game planning to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers.

The Texans have had a very good roster for many years and with O’Brien failing to ever eclipse double digit wins, it is time to start questioning his place at the helm. He should, at the absolute very least, hand over play calling duties to an offensive coordinator because he is the main reason for the underperformance of the offense.

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– Max Freedman is the Managing Editor of Full Press Coverage Texans. He covers the Houston Texans. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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