Welcome Back Will Fuller

Entering week 4 no one outside of DeAndre Hopkins had been a threat in the passing game. Fuller’s presence made a major impact against the Titans. He had four catches on six targets and a touchdown, but that does not tell the whole story. Hopkins could have had two more touchdowns with better throws and his impact was felt across the field.

He drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty that directly led to a Deshaun Watson one-yard touchdown run. The Titan’s defense had to respect his elite speed forcing the secondary to sit deeper creating additional space for Hopkins. Fuller provided a boost to the offense after missing two months, but needs to hone his timing with Watson before facing better competition. Based on Sunday, Fuller’s return feels like the missing piece the offense sorely needed.

Major Defensive Flaw

Houston allowed less than 200 yards and forced five turnovers. The secondary was very opportunistic with Marcus Mariota clearly off his game before leaving early with an injury.  The Titans only had success on one rushing play from Mariota that looked like a run/pass option off a zone read. If Jadeveon Clowney reads it properly it goes for five-yard gain instead of a touchdown. The Titan’s running backs averaged three yards per carry and their offensive line was physically dominated by J.J. Watt and company.

The Texans had a high level of defensive success without getting a large amount of pressure on the Titan’s quarterbacks. They finished the game with two sacks against one of the best offensive tackle tandems in football.

After week 4, Texans will be middle of the pack in sacks. This is unexpected for a team with Watt, Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus.  That trio has four sacks through four weeks and the team only has ten total. Most surprising is that J.J. Watt has zero sacks.  He looks like his old self against the run, but has looked a step off after back surgery when getting after the passer. The pass rush was expected to be a major strength entering the season, but if nothing changes this could become an issue.

Bill O’Brien, Expert Conductor

Against the Patriots, the offensive game plan’s focus was to protect the rookie quarterback and put him in situations to succeed. This week O’Brien took it a step further. He continued moving Watson around to get easy throws, but was also able to get DeAndre Hopkins in many favorable matchups. The game plan was masterful and the offense produced a football version of beautiful music.

​Hopkins has been targeted more than any receiver this season and this trend continued against Tennessee. Watson has looked his way frequently and has been the safety blanket for the rookie. O’Brien made it much easier this week by forcing the Titans to make a judgment call on how to defend the elite wideout. The Texans frequently lined Hopkins up by himself with three or four receivers on the opposite side of the field. These formations led the Titans to shade their coverage toward the multiple receivers’ side leaving Hopkins in man coverage. The defense never adjusted and he was able to feast all day finishing with ten catches, 107 yards and a touchdown.

Watson Stays Outside the Hashes

Deshaun Watson continues to impress while operating with a limited play book. He had his second consecutive 300-yard passing game against a defense that ranks towards the bottom in most categories. Most of his throws are coming on outside hitches and shallow crosses away from play-action. The question remains if avoiding the center of the field will play against stouter defenses.

The play-action passing has frequently moved the pocket or receivers across the formation.  This has given Watson high percentage throws to open receivers. Lamar Miller’s touchdown catch came off play-action, but was the designed throw from the beginning. The play began with three receivers in a bunch on the right side of the formation. The three receivers ran crossing routes across the field leaving Miller open in the flat for a walk-in touchdown following his run fake.

Watson’s numbers look good after two strong games albeit against week defenses. With a few weeks of film this will not come as easy against the likes of Kansas City and Seattle.  Those defenses will be well versed on the play-action fakes and reverse motions. They also have the defenders to provide a stiffer test for DeAndre Hopkins. Crossing routes and throws over the middle to Ryan Griffin will be needed to keep better defenses off balance.