Over the next few days, we'll start to ramp up the playbook stuff — starting with a tape study of each remaining playoff team. We begin with the Houston Texans, who won the first playoff game in franchise history over the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10, and now head off to Baltimore. Here are a few observations from the Bengals win.
-- One of the reasons that the Texans were one of two teams to run more than they passed in the regular season and win a playoff game last weekend (the Denver Broncos were the other) was the creativity and multiplicity of their run concepts. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback T.J. Yates handed off to Arian Foster, but did so with Cincy's defense having to be mindful of a fake sweep. After a false start, it was a two-back sweep with the right guard pulling outside the right tackle and Ben Tate as the back.
Through the game, Houston really impressed me with the way the run game was set up. A blast to the weak side after fullback Lawrence Vickers motions out of the edge of a bunch formation … a zone slide with the fullback faking away from playside … and that's not even counting the versatility given to the offense by tight end/fullback James Casey, who tends to roll out in motion from the backfield to certain routes from an inline or flex position. The Texans are dangerous in the run game because they're so tough to figure out — whatever your first key is against them, you're probably wrong.
-- The 52-yard interference penalty on Texans safety Glover Quin certainly had something to do with the fact that Quin was covering A.J. Green up top with a step disadvantage, but the reason for that might have been that cornerback Johnathan Joseph backed off the original tighter coverage pre-snap and got turned around as Green passed him by. Looking at the timing of the zone handoff, it would appear that Quin expected a bit more "sticking" underneath from Joseph before the cornerback handed off. Quin knew he was beaten because he adjusted late, and he arm-barred Green to prevent a touchdown.
Joseph might have been peeking at the slot lane, because cornerback Kareem Jackson had followed receiver Ryan Whalen from the offensive left to right side. I'll revisit this play when NFL Game Rewind installs the All-22 looks (which will hopefully be on Wednesday), but it's an interesting example of the fact that the guy you're usually blaming for a blown coverage isn't always 100 percent at fault.
-- The second-quarter interception returned for a touchdown by lineman J.J. Watt was a great example of the value brought to the Texans in the 2011 draft. The Texans were playing a 4-2-5 nickel look (a common passing-down defense for Wade Phillips, he'll replace one of his outside linebackers with that extra defensive back and go with three or four down linemen), and at the snap, linebacker Brooks Reed (their second-round pick) was playing with his hand down.
Reed shot out of the gate and took Bengals right tackle Andre Smith out of a wide set. At that point, right guard Mike McGlynn had to deal with Watt (their first-rounder) one-on-one, and while McGlynn is a tough gamer, that was a mismatch inside. Watt was able to press McGlynn back, get his hand up, catch Andy Dalton's low throw, and take it in for the score. The interception was, in part, the incidental result of stellar man-on-man quarterback pressure.
-- I continue to be impressed with Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. For a quarterback at his experience level, he's got a good command of play action, run action, and the quickness and rhythm of the NFL passing game. He's got a throwing motion that I would call more functional than ideal — he tends to sidearm it at times and that leads to passes getting batted at the line — but he's got good short-area touch and he's learning to take a little off to match up with certain route combinations.
Yates still needs to be more accurate with the deep ball (his efficiency takes a beating when he throws over 10 yards), but from what I've seen so far, I think that Texans fans should be very encouraged about the future of their backup quarterback. Yet another function of Houston's 2011 draft (Yates was its fifth-rounder) — is it too late to throw a little Executive of the Year love in the direction of GM Rick Smith?