Okay, I found a copy of the entire game so I was able to properly break down the offense. I broke down 38 plays, ignoring ones that didn’t matter to the outcome of the game (and a couple of tempo plays that took advantage of the defense not being totally ready).
There were 15 running plays (includes run/pass and run/screen options) and 23 passes.
RUNNING GAME MISCUES
Of the 15 running plays, there were 12 mistakes by the OL. But some of those mistakes were on the same play.
Dalton also got pushed back pretty bad the first two passing plays of the second half. I’m pretty sure we are going to see someone else playing RG the next game, most likely Samia.
Ford at LG also had 4 mistakes, but they were small mental mistakes that weren’t that concerning. One play there was a pretty tricky stunt and he took too long figuring out who he needed to block.
Another play he pulled and didn’t notice a LB unblocked so he blocked the first man he saw (which meant helping the RT block his man).
It’s kind of unfair to expect a first time starter to be able to do that. Another play he was supposed to block the DT with the center, but both let him go and ended up going upfield and blocking each other. Clearly Ford was at fault here.
The last miscue he had was not being able to stay with the DT, but that is an incredibly difficult block due to how far away he was. In that case he just needs to do a better job not allowing him to go around him and chase the play down.
Samia didn’t have any miscues and Brown only had one. Alvarez did miss a snap early in the game that caused Baker to get the ball too late to hand off to Perine (14:14 1st Q).
Otherwise he seemed to have done pretty well at center!
There were two additional plays where the OL was at fault, but I couldn’t target any specific individual. One was a combo blocking scheme that had 4 OL combo blocking 2 DL and none of them were able to get off the block to pick up a LB. The other play was a busted play where at least 2 of them were running the wrong blocking scheme (12:33 4th Q).
It’s possible Alvarez may have missed a call, but it was a disaster!
Both Flowers and Mixon are to blame for one play each (more on that later) and Baker was at fault twice due to making the wrong decision. One of those was the option play (3:17 2nd Q), but it’s possibly the scheme that really deserves the blame.
The play simply cannot work unless Baker pitches the ball. Now, if Baker is supposed to just run an option look to draw the DE and then pitch (not uncommon), then he made a dumb mistake not pitching it. Had he pitched it, they would have picked up the first down. Now, if the RT had gone out to block the LB instead of backing up attempting to prevent penetration (The OL was also blocking for a possible hand off to the flowers going the other side) the QB and RB could have run a true option.
PASSING GAME MISCUES
Of the 23 passes, there were only 6 mistakes by the OL. (Samia twice, Dalton twice, and Brown twice) That’s pretty good. Mixon’s struggles pass protecting in the 3rd quarter were just as much of a concern.
5 or 6 of the bad passing plays were Baker’s fault. One of those might have been Flowers’ fault, it’s hard to know. Either he was overthrown or Flowers should have kept running and caught it over his shoulder (10:08 4th Q).
I went over Baker’s issues in more detail in the last post.
COOL NEW PLAYS
Riley unveiled some really awesome new plays in this game! My favorite by far is a play with both Perine and Mixon in the backfield.
The OL blocks for a stretch run to one side while the playside back fakes like he’s going to block the backside end, but then continues out to the flat and dips back behind the LOS for a screen pass. Baker can either hand off to the other RB running the stretch play or fake the hand off and then roll out to the backside and pass to the RB on the screen. Because he catches the ball behind the LOS the receivers can block downfield and clear the way for RB to make the catch. It’s a wicked play and we ran it a few times (like the first play in the 2nd Q where Perine got injured). The only time it didn’t work is when Baker chose to hand off when he very obviously should have passed it. (2:08 3rd Q)
Another cool play is actually the first play of the game.
The RB swings out to one side and the OL pulls both the G and T to the other side and the QB can either pass to the RB or fake it and run the ball himself to the other side.
There really was no reason to stop running the ball. The defense didn’t really do anything differently after the 1st quarter, we just started making mistakes. And a few of the runs that didn’t work very well were ALMOST really big plays (like 13:11 1st Q and 9:52 2nd Q)
Contrary to what I’ve heard, they didn’t start run blitzing or anything like that. Their defense is just really aggressive vs any kind of run action regardless of how many times we’ve been running it or how successful we’ve been. I can see why Riley would want to just try and take advantage of this with a bunch of play action (like he did in the 3rd Q). Why not? Unfortunately, our execution fell to crap and kept us from being able to take advantage of it. I also think the play action plays we ran weren’t really best.
Their LBers are aggressive into the line which leaves them really vulnerable to outside runs, something we tried to take advantage of (and did early on, like in 13:36 1st Q).
Eventually they started really overreacting to any stretch blocking we did, which left them vulnerable to plays that fake the stretch. In the second half we called several plays that did this, to mixed success.
In the end, we should have kept running the ball. We would have worn them down and popped a few big runs eventually. I think the two short yardage stops that happened right after Perine got hurt made Riley tentative. In both those plays Dalton was overpowered and Ford made a mental mistake.
HOUSTON’S FAVORITE BLITZ
Houston didn’t really have all that many blitzes they ran. Their favorite was to have the 3 DL slant to one side and have two LBers blitz on the outside opposite the slant.
By having two LBers blitz on the same side it makes it difficult for blitz pickup and can really mess up runs to that side. By having the DL slant to the other side it can make it difficult to run away from the blitz as well.
One awesome blocking scheme we unveiled in this game is perfect to combat this. It’s almost like the offensive version of the same scheme.
The G and T both pull to the playside while the center and other G block the two backside DL. So the T, G, and C on “slant” and block the DL while the opposite G and T “scrape” around the other side to block any LBers in the hole. So if the DL is slanting toward the playside, then that makes the T, G, and center blocks easy! The pulling G and T block the two blitzers and the RB runs off tackle inside of their blocks. If the DL is slanting AWAY from the play, the blocks on the DL will be difficult, but since they will be running away from the play they are essentially taking themselves out of the play.
The first time we ran this was Mixon’s long 60+ yard run (11:53 1st Q). Also critical to that play busting loose was Baxter who faked a screen before blocking, tricking the safety to moving outside.
For some reason, we never ran that play again. We ran that blocking scheme a couple more times, but not in the same play. I think we were supposed to be running this blocking scheme on the play where the OL really messed up and half of them were running something completely different. We also used this blocking scheme on the play action pass trying to replicate Mark Andrews long TD pass that didn’t work (I talked about this in the last post).
FLOWERS WAS A BIG LIABILITY
This was a shock to me, but a big part of the reason behind our running struggles was Flowers not being strong enough to block the Houston Nickelback (or OLB if they weren’t going to a nickel personnel). The Nickel really gave us problems all day, and I think the formations Riley chose played a big role in that. Take the first run of the 3rd Quarter for example.
The formation had two receivers split wide to one side, a FB who lined up just outside the OT on the same side and a single receiver split out on the other. Any time you have a slot receiver you are going to have a nickel on him. If the nickel plays inside of the slot receiver then he can react to run action and cover the run in the box and it’s very difficult for the slot receiver to block him. If you are going to run to the side of a slot receiver you have to have a way to block the nickel or use a run/pass option where the QB reads the nickel and either hands off or passes to the slot depending on what the Nickel does. (This is why Baylor splits their receivers so wide). Flowers could have blocked the nickel but they had him crossing to the backside to block the end man. It’s possible Mixon was supposed to run to the backside, in which case he made a mistake because he could have been successful running that direction. But, he cut it to the strong side and the nickel tackled him.
They tried several times to have Flowers block the nickel, often trying to kick him out as he run into the backfield. But Flowers wasn’t strong enough. Take the run at 9:52 in the 2nd Q for example.
It should have been a big play, but Mixon couldn’t tell whether to go inside or outside of Flowers’ block because he was kind of being manhandled (although to his credit, he always stayed with him). Mixon ended up running right into Flowers and ended up no gain. Everyone else was blocked and there was a bunch of room if he was able to get past that block. Mixon struggled getting past Flowers a couple different times in the game.
Another example is the screen pass at 4:21 in the 2nd Q.
Flowers has to block the nickel who is lined up over Mark Andrews in the slot. If he can make this block, Westbrook gets at least 10 yards. But, he can’t and the play goes nowhere.
In the last post I talked about the second time we ran the play Mark Andrews got his big TD pass on. The first time we ran it ( 8:53 2nd Q) Flowers blocked the blitz from the outside in and allowed Baker to roll out to the backside.
But, the second time we ran it ( 8:59 3rd Q) Flowers slides to the inside and lets the LB get outside of him. He chips the LB and then goes out for a pass. That allows the LB free into the backfield and prevents Baker from rolling out.
We really had success on a wide variety of plays in the first couple of drives. It was a great thing to watch. The versatility that having Mark Andrews and Flowers along with two receivers and Perine gives you, at least on paper, is quite special. Do you go big to try and stop the power run game with the TE and FB? Or go small to combat the spread formations since both Flowers and Andrews are good receivers? However, for this to work on the field, Flowers has to be able to block OLBers and Nickelbacks!
MARK ANDREWS STRUGGLES BLOCKING DOWNFIELD
This is kind of surprising given his size, but Mark Andrews seems to struggle blocking downfield. Defenders seem to be able to get around him too easily. Again, for the versatility of the first unit to really work, he has to be able to block the perimeter when spread out.
The poor execution in the second half is very worrisome, but the fact that it isn’t anything that Houston did differently that made the difference between how great we looked in the first half and how horrible we looked in the second is good news. At least we know we CAN execute correctly. Some things need to be changed. Dalton was overpowered, which might be from him being to hesitant or uncomfortable. I hope that’s the case.
The OL did not look as bad as I feared, despite having a lot of mistakes. Those things are correctable, though (assuming Dalton’s problem is tentativeness and not lack of strength). I don’t know why they aren’t corrected already, but it can be corrected.
Really, I didn’t see anything with the receivers that made me think they were part of the problem. There were a handful of plays I couldn’t tell because they were off the screen, but most of the time I could see them and they weren’t the issue. That’s a good thing as well!
I’m also pleased to see how good the gameplan was. I was afraid the issues were schematic. Riley definitely made some mistakes, but a lot of them were understandable given the situation. And he also had some exciting new additions to the offense.