HOU: Breakdown of the 3rd Quarter Offense

First off, due to some programing issues with Fox Sports I was not able to get any tape of the first half of the game. I did get almost all of the 3rd Quarter, however, which I think is the most important.

I’m VERY concerned about our offense, not just the players, but the offense in general. It was not just one thing that caused the issues. It was a whole lot of different issues from a lot of different players. It’s very similar to our first game last year, but remember, this was a new offense they were learning. Now, there’s no excuse.

The execution is very poor, and that is a VERY serious problem because Riley’s entire system is based on perfect execution. He doesn’t use many plays. The defense will know what we are going to try and do, but the idea is to execute it so perfectly that it won’t matter. When the defense knows what you like to do, the margin of error is razor thin.

The idea is to practice the small number of plays/concepts so much that through repetition the players perfect execution. So, for the execution to be this poor two years in a row is a huge problem. Something isn’t working. Even before Riley set foot on campus, and I assumed our execution would be very precise, my biggest concern was whether or not this offense would be successful against really well coached defenses with similar talent level. The margin of error is just so incredibly thin against those teams I still fear it’s just not realistic to expect to be that precise. But, with such poor execution overall…that’s a REALLY bad sign.

QB ISSUES

As I’ve said before, and showed on the breakdown of the bowl game (which you can see for free on oubreakdown.com now), by far the biggest issue with the passing offense vs Clemson was Baker. Really, it wasn’t even close. I’m very disappointed to see these same problems in this game.

He’s very illusive and is special when it comes to avoiding the rush. However, many of those plays he is applauded for are actually plays where he shouldn’t have been scrambling at all. Either he takes off when he needs to just stand in the pocket where the protection is, or he flat out doesn’t see wide open receivers literally right in front of him. This is a huge problem, and without Shepard to bail him out, it will be magnified this year.

He can be very accurate, but his comp % is very misleading. As are his lack of INTs. Baker simply does not throw the ball unless a receiver is wide open. He doesn’t try to throw receivers open or use his accuracy to put the ball in tighter windows. This simply isn’t going to be enough against really well coached defenses with comparable talent. As I said, the margin of error is razor thin. Receivers aren’t going to be wide open and you can’t rely only on really safe throws (like comebacks).

Another big problem is something I talked about last year. In RIley’s offense the fade route (especially the back shoulder throw like we saw UH complete a few times) is critical. Especially with a QB who struggles seeing things inside, it’s vital to be able to attack the outside of the defense. It’s probably the most used concept in the offense, and many plays utilize it in order to create space in the middle of the field. If the defense doesn’t have to worry about that pass, it really handcuffs the rest of the offense.

Take that long pass to Mixon in the first half. That is a play that they tried to make work last season and boy is it a good one. Both sides of the field have a smash concept. The outside receiver runs a 5 yard hitch route and the inside receivers run fade routes. This forces the two safeties to split toward the sidelines, leaving the deep middle open. The RB is now covered by a LB, and with a RB that has the speed and hands Mixon does makes that a slam dunk. He just blows by the LB right up the middle of the field and there’s nothing they can do about it.

But, without the threat of the fade route, the safeties don’t have to react so strong to cover the sidelines.

MIXON PASS BLOCKING

A few times in the 3rd quarter, Mixon was relied upon to block a rusher. Most of the time it didn’t end too well. Not that he’s bad, he’s just not very good. And at times they had him blocking a DL instead of a LB which is a bizarre choice. If he can’t block better than this, he needs to just go for the legs like many RB’s do so that the QB has an extra second.

OL ISSUES

The OL definitely struggled and is much more of a factor than Riley thinks. But, it’s not as bad as some believe. At least, not when talking about the passing game. The running game is a different story as I only saw one run in this entire 3rd Quarter.

In the 17 plays in the 3rd quarter, only 5 of them contained OL problems. And 2 of them were on the same play. Dalton looked really bad in the first two plays of the second half, getting dominated (including being pancaked). Brown got beat twice and Samia once. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone else get some snaps at RG pretty soon.

THE BREAKDOWN

1. (1st and 10) Dalton gets pushed back and beaten, forces Baker to roll out. Pass interference called on the Defense.

2. (1st and 10) Run/Pass option. Baker makes correct read and tries to pass, but O. Brown isn’t sure which blitzer to block and both get into backfield quickly, blocking the passing lane. Baker scrambles and gets a few yards. Dalton is pancaked.

3. (2nd and 5) Play action with Mark andrews slanting into the middle. If Baker can have one more second to throw it’s probably a TD. Defense rushes 6 players. But Samia gets beat around the edge and forces Baker to pump fake and pull the ball back. Mixon also tasked with blocking Ed Oliver which is bad design. He stands little chance. Sack.

4. (3rd and 7) Play action WR screen. Big play.

5. (1st and 10) Another WR screen to Westbrook. It should not work as they have a big numbers advantage, but Westbrook makes them miss and the defense overruns the play. 8 yd gain.

6. (2nd and 2) PLay action pass deep to Westbrook who is one on one on a deep post in the end zone. Defender interferes with him but isn’t called because the ball is uncatchable. The reason it’s uncatchable is because Baker’s arm gets hit. It gets hit because Mixon can’t block the LB. They only rush 4 and we have 7 blocking.

7. (3rd and 2) Both slots run quick out routes. Good play call, but the outside receiver gets jammed at the line and can’t get off in time. So, he’s right where Baker needs to throw the ball. He wisely pulls the ball and scrambles for more time. However, he has both Perine right in front of him open at the the 1st down line, as well as a slot receiver who came back inside just past the 1st down line. Both open right in front of Baker. He sees neither (actually it looks like he sees Perine and even pump fakes to him which is bizarre). So he takes off running. Barely gets the 1st down thanks to a last second stretch out of bounds.

8. (1st and 10) Play action quick stick route on both sides (might be a run/pass option). Both stick routes are open. Baker does not notice the slot defender blitzing on the short side, which means the stick route is wide open (stick route just means the receiver runs a few yards straight ahead and stops for a quick pass). Baker has to recognize this! The perfect play against this defense. The blitzer gets to Baker and he can’t make the quick pass to the other side, despite it being open as well. Sack.

9. (2nd and 16) empty backfield, screen to Mixon. Play had no chance of working. Desperately needed to change the play. Houston had a 4 on 2 advantage on that side. Absolutely no chance of that working, especially given that none of the OL are even used to block downfield. Loss on the play.

10. (3rd and 18) This is the same play Mark Andrews had the big play on previously. The play really doesn’t make much sense. All the OL block like it’s a stretch play one way and the QB fakes the stretch to the RB but then rolls out to the weak side. Andrews runs a crossing route deep. What doesn’t make sense is that there’s no one to block the backside for the QB roll out. Flowers initially heads that way like he’s going to block, but just gets a chip on the defender and then goes out into the flat. Now, if he would block legitimately for a few seconds and do a delay release that would make sense. But this is more like a naked bootleg which on 3rd and 18 makes absolutely no sense. The big target on the play is Andrews, and the only way Baker has enough time to get the ball to him is if by chance the defense decides to rush the backside and drop everyone on the playside. The chances of that are not great, but it worked out perfectly the first time we ran it. Literally any other type of rush and the play is doomed. Baker scrambles all over the field for his life and ends up throwing it away.

1. (1st and 10) Don’t have this play

2. (2nd and 8) Mixon pass blocks and they only rush 4. Baker has plenty of time and a great pocket. But Baker does not stay in the pocket or step up. Instead, after 2.5 seconds he sprints outside which allows the outside rush to get to him. What’s even stranger is that he has an open receiver on a shallow cross right in front of him that would be a guaranteed completion with probably at LEAST a few yards gain if he was being pressured (which he wasn’t). Thankfully he avoids the rush and gets a deep pass to Baxter who “fumbles the ball”.

1. (1st and 10) Don’t have this play

2. (2nd and 8) 7 guys block 4 (corner blitz) and Baker stays in the pocket, so he has plenty of time. Gets it to Andrews on a comeback style route for a 5 yard gain.

3. (3rd and 2) Excellently designed play action screen play from the Mixon/Perine package. Perine fakes like he’s blocking and then releases into the flat on the backside and comes back behind the line for the pass (making it a legal screen so the receivers can be blocking downfield. This is a wicked play to have to stop in short yardage situations!

4. (1st and 10) Don’t have this play

5. (2nd and 10) We finally run the ball. It’s also a corner blitz. Flowers kicks out the left side DE while LT blocks the OLB (because the DL is slanting to that side they wisely swap responsibilities) and the other 4 OL combo block the other linemen. Mixon just has to find the hole based on what the defenders do. The corner blitz forces Mixon to have to go to the side of Flowers’ block. The blocks are good, Mixon just has to bounce outside the line (and inside of Flowers’ kick out block). For some reason, Mixon is afraid to go inside Flowers’ block and makes another bounce back deeper into the backfield to get around OUTSIDE of that block. Because of his speed and quickness he is able to do it and get to the outside where he makes a good run, just shy of the first down. Flowers’ block was good enough, though, and he could have hit outside a lot sooner.

6. (3rd and 1) Not sure why we didn’t try to run the ball here on 3rd and short. It’s right in that area where we might have gone for it on 4th down, though, so maybe he was wanting to maybe steal a deep pass when they aren’t expecting it, knowing he could always power run it on 4th and 1. Who knows. Most all the receivers go deep with Mixon running a swing route. The defense blitzes the LB to that side and Baker does the right thing and passes quickly to Mixon who gets the first down. I don’t think this is a designed screen, since the receiver to that side is running deep instead of trying to block the LB or even running a short in route and no OL are blocking. The swing route only works if they blitz the LB to that side.

7. (1st and 10) Beautifully designed trick play. Fake stretch run to the right, Flowers fakes block to the left (which would be the backside of the stretch run) and then sneaks out deep. After faking the handoff, Baker passes to Westbrook like a WR screen. The run action pulls the LBers right and the screen action pulls up any defenders on the left. This leaves Flowers wide open! Unfortunately, Westbrook can’t get the pass there. To be honest, only a small percentage of these trick passes I’ve ever seen get completed. Way more often than not the pass is not caught. It may work in practice, but even QBs often have trouble being accurate in the first few passes of a big game. All that adrenaline surging, it just doesn’t end up being a very accurate pass very often at all.

8. (2nd and 10) O. Brown gets beaten badly to the inside and the DE forces Baker to try and scramble but ends up fumbling the ball. Essentially, game over.

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