Breaking down Pep Hamilton’s Week 1 play calls

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Welcome to Film Room, where we’ll break down important parts of the Texans’ last game. Sit down. Put the phone aside. Let’s dive into it.

A few peps and then costly missteps: OJ Howard said he didn’t know Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was “a big 13,” a point guard whose philosophy relied heavily on tight three-end formations. Hamilton’s intention to frequently use 13 personnel packages did not become clear to Howard, a former first-round tight end, until he spoke on the phone with Hamilton while signing a one-year contract. $1 million year with the Texans just over a week before. their regular season opener against the Colts.

“It’s something that makes it difficult for the defense to adapt. Today we saw it,” Howard said Sunday, moments after catching two touchdown passes on his Houston debut. “It’s just a bright future for our whole play.”

If there’s anything promising the Texans can glean from their first tie in team history, it’s Howard’s influence on offense. The franchise desperately needed to bolster the positional squad after fifth-round rookie Teagan Quitoriano was placed on injured reserve with ongoing knee swelling and veteran Antony Auclair suffered a knee injury in training camp. .

It’s possible GM Nick Caserio made room to sign Howard anyway. The six-year veteran was a formidable pass-catching threat in his first three seasons with the Buccaneers before injuring his Achilles tendon in 2020, and, after ending his contract with Tampa Bay last season, the Bills oddly decided to cut Howard two weeks ago. despite him having guaranteed nearly $3.2 million.

Howard is giving Hamilton flexibility in his 13 personnel packages that he didn’t have before. The Texans are confident of splitting Howard, Pharoah Brown and Brevin Jordan all as receivers, and Howard (6-foot-6, 251 pounds) and Brown (6-6, 258) are both the prototype size to fall in line and assist as run blockers. Flexibility provides unpredictability, and Hamilton, who spent the 2014 season and part of 2015 as the Colts’ offensive coordinator, kept his former employer going with a creative flow of plays that helped the Texans take a lead 20-3.

Houston’s 13-staff package was its most productive unit. Howard scored the Texans’ only touchdowns on tight three-end formations that disguised what was virtually the same play by arranging the players in a different way. Every play-caller hopes to fool a defense. Hamilton, seven years from his last stint as the NFL’s official offensive coordinator, has proven he’s still capable of manipulating the football chessboard.

10 staff: 6 plays, 80 net yards (48 via penalty), 13.3 net yards per play
11 staff: 26 plays, 103 net yards, 3.9 net yards per game
12 staff: 12 plays, 68 net yards, 5.6 net yards per game
13 staff: 7 games, 44 net yards, 2 touchdowns, 6.3 net yards per game
21 staff: 7 plays, 52 net yards (21 via penalty), 7.4 net yards per play
22 staff: 6 plays, (-1) net yards, (-0.16) net yards per play
Imbalance: 5 plays, 23 net yards, 4.6 net yards per game
3+ WRs: Davis Mills 11 of 20 passes for 98 yards (4.9 per attempt), sacked once. Chris Moore 3 targets, 3 catches, 31 yards. Rex Burkhead 5 targets, 3 catches, 21 yards. Nico Collins 3 targets, 2 catches, 26 yards. Brandin Cooks 5 targets, 3 catches, 20 yards. Chris Conley 1 target. Brevin Jordan 1 target. Phillip Dorsett 1 target.
FB packages: 10 rushes, 15 yards (1.5 per attempt)


The advantage seemed to be Indy’s tendency to leave an opening about 10 yards up the field when defending the side of the field with two straight tight ends. On Houston’s first touchdown (see play sequence below), Colts nickel corner Kenny Moore II (yellow arrow) defends the deep sideline against Brevin Jordan while outside linebacker Bobby Okereke (green arrow) covers small dishes. Free safety Julian Blackmon is lined up far enough for Davis Mills to hit Howard in time once the open field develops (red circle).

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The Texans revamped their 13-person package in the third quarter to achieve the same defensive look (see play footage below). Jordan started as a fullback in an I formation package with Brown lined up outside of Howard on the left. Brown waved to far right and Jordan replaced him. Boom. Same defense of Moore and Okereke (red circle). Blackmon was playing safe deep again and Howard had a 22-yard reception to give the Texans a 20-3 lead with 7:16 left in the third quarter.

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The Texans entered the Colts game with enough confidence in Howard as a wide receiver to feature him in tight three-end formations that alternated between running and passing plays, while passing Mills from traditional organizations. from undercenter to empty shotgun shots. These forfeits tend to flag racing, and Hamilton smiled and disagreed when a reporter suggested last week that he had committed a ‘first race offence’.

Hamilton sent in reserve tackle Charlie Heck as an extra lineman on the first play of the game and then, surprisingly, Mills fired a 4-yard pass to Brandin Cooks. Rookie running back Dameon Pierce’s 4-yard gain on the second play of the game was the only one short by 13 team members. Mills hit six of the seven times the unit deployed, and the Texans were split into an empty shotgun formation in four of the games.

Skill beyond Howard was lacking. Mills completed just 1 of his 4 passes to other receivers, a 2-yard swing pass to Cooks. Hamilton tried to create game advantage for the Cooks in third-and-third to the Colts’ 36 to start the fourth quarter, when the Texans led 20-3. Cooks lined up in the slot but were still paired with two-time All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who covered Cooks and forced an incomplete. The Texans pitched a game later.

This underscores Hamilton’s most difficult problem in 2022: establishing an attacking threat beyond his tight heavy formations. Houston’s depleted wide receiver depth requires Hamilton to rely on its bulkier position groups, an unfortunate reality as second-round pick John Metchie III continues his battle after being diagnosed with leukemia in July.

Brooks Kubena/Houston Chronicle

The Texans failed to salvage a win in three key passing situations. There were breakdowns at quarterback, receiver and quarterback. With 1:46 to go in a tie, Houston had a favorable field position from its 40s after Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship kicked out of bounds, but the offense was three-and-three while fielding three wide receivers. On the third and sixth, miscommunication between Mills and Cooks nearly resulted in a costly interception.

Blankenship also snagged the out-of-bounds overtime kickoff, but Mills was sacked twice in another three-and-out. On the first sack, Mills had a reasonable time to throw the ball, but it was tossed as he looked for an open receiver. Cooks, Collins and Chris Moore are Houston’s top three receivers, and Chris Conley, who was promoted from the practice squad, joined them when the Texans deployed four-wide receiver packages six times against the Colts. .

Mills was just 11 of 20 passes for 98 yards (4.9 yards per attempt) when the Hamilton fielded three or more wide receivers. The Texans are entering a second year in which down passes are a problem. Mills’ predicted aerial yards per attempt were lower against the Colts (6.7) than his attempts in 2021 (7.2), and that still included his third-quarter flea flicker to Cooks, who ran for 47 yards in the tunes.

Brooks Kubena/Houston Chronicle

The Texans claimed former Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson off waivers on Aug. 31, but he wasn’t ready to play after just a week of practice and was inactive against the Colts.

But the Texans offensive line also needs to improve as run blockers. Texans coach Lovie Smith, who endeared himself to Hamilton’s old-school fullback packages, lamented another opportunity for his side to salvage a win against rival AFC South Division .

The franchise cleared a fullback spot for undrafted rookie Troy Hairston on the 53-man roster, but the Texans only gained 15 yards on 10 carries with Hairston in the game. Pierce had seven carries for 16 yards (2.3 yards per carry) on such formations, and backup Rex Burkhead was minus 1 yards on three carries.

Brooks Kubena/Houston Chronicle

Hamilton turned to his heavy unit to bleed the clock as the Texans still held a 20-13 lead with 7:42 left in the game. But on second and 9 at Texans 37 (see play streak below), Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart fended off starting center Justin Britt (circled in red) and tripped running back Rex Burkhead for a gain of 1 meter. Britt’s pre-snap angle on Stewart was unfavorable, and it’s unclear whether rookie left guard Kenyon Green (green arrow) was supposed to help her in a brief double team before switching to his defender.

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Stewart destroyed Houston’s final offensive play of the game by sweeping Houston’s inside line again, dropping Burkhead for a 2-yard loss that eroded Smith’s confidence in his offense enough to send the unit down. punt on the field to seal the tie. Much debate has swirled around why Burkhead’s (14) reaches exceeded Pierce’s (11). Smith also expressed his displeasure. But without proper blocking, it didn’t matter which running back was in the backfield on those given play selections.

“The execution wasn’t exactly where we wanted it to be in some of the situations yesterday,” Smith said. “It’s not like we’re going to stray from what we believe. Going up 20-3, we had the same mindset when it came to calling plays and all that. We will handle these situations a little differently, a little better next time. This is the answer as we see it.

Brooks Kubena/Houston Chronicle

Hamilton’s attempt to max out a roster of Texans entering the second season of a massive overhaul doesn’t lack creativity. On Houston’s problematic 5-for-15 conversion rate, the Texans deployed quick reserve quarterback Jeff Driskel, who converted two third-down situations while making zone-reading runs.

It’s still unclear how often the Texans will line up against an opponent and have consistent game advantages. Cooks were their main option of choice in 2021, often their only one. Howard showed potential. As the Texans prepare for their road trip to the playoff-seeking Broncos on Sunday, Hamilton will be looking for more.

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