Film Study: Safety concerns; missing Quin

Film Study: Safety concerns; missing Quin
October 19, 2013, 8:15 pm
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For a closer look at the Texans with the All-22 coaching tape, each week, we will talk with Sean Coffey, content producer and technical football analyst of NFL Playbook on NFL Network.

Paul Aspan: The Texans’ defense didn’t force many third downs (only seven) against the Rams and they allowed key third-down conversions on two Saint Louis TD drives. Why are the Texans struggling to get off the field on third down?

Sean Coffey: Aside from Johnathan Joseph, there is no one in that secondary that can lock up man-to-man and force a consistent incompletion percentage.

The Texans are simply not getting the pass rush that they are used to having, and they cannot play solid man coverage across the board in those third-and-medium to third-and-shorter situations. Teams are using formations and pre-snap movement to get who and what they want out of this defense, especially in third down situations.

PA: Key third down on the Rams last TD drive of the first half - 3rd-and-10 at STL 20 (7:40  left in second quarter), Sam Bradford completes to Daryl Richardson for 18 yards, Cushing just misses the tackle.

SC: This one should hurt. At the snap, the Texans rolled safety Danieal Manning over to the right toward the three wide receiver side to allow the underneath corner backs to play a trail technique behind the three receivers.

They were able to do so because, both safeties are now over the top of the trips formation with defensive backs undercutting any breaking routes. At this point there are five DBs on three WRs, a four-man rush and your best two non-defensive linemen guarding the remaining two eligible pass catchers on the left side of the field.

Joseph is man-to-man on the lone receiver Chris Givens, with no help and Cushing is one-on-one with Rams running back Richardson. The Rams make the perfect call against this defense – the formation was perfect. There were two blockers for one defender (Cushing). When the screen developed, Cushing saw it immediately and wanted to take an underneath path to the RB, his shoulder got clipped which put him at a bad angle and Richardson was in open space. We’ve seen the star LB make that play plenty of times, this time he just didn’t make it – the defense was outflanked.

PA: The Texans had St. Louis in another third-and-long on the Rams first touchdown drive of the second half – 3rd and 6 at STL 24 (11:50 left in third quarter). Bradford connects with the tight end Jared Cook for 11 yards and a first down.

SC: D.J. Swearinger was one-on-one with TE Cook, 2x2 formation with man-to-man coverage. There was safety help which should have prompted Swearinger to play tighter on Cook. The down marker is 6 yards from the line of scrimmage and he played at a soft 4-yard depth, aligned on the inside. When Cook broke on his out route, he smartly pushed 3 yards past the sticks, putting Swearinger 3 yards on top of him – 6 yards above the first down maker. Easy separation, easy throw and catch.

PA: We saw some of this against the 49ers in Week 5 on San Francisco’s first TD drive in the first quarter – 3rd-and-10 at SF 35, (6:49 left in first quarter) – Colin Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis over the middle for 13 yards and a first down.

SC: The 3rd-and-13 vs. San Fran is just a direct result of an unhealthy Ed Reed. I’ve seen him intercept that pass several times over his career and he simply couldn’t get there. He saw it coming and he had no vertical threat on his side. He just didn’t have the explosion that I know he possesses and arrived in time to make the tackle and not the interception.

PA: Five plays later on that same drive – 3rd-and-5 at HOU 22 (4:25 left first quarter) – Kaepernick again connects with Davis for 11 yards and a first down. Are opponents exploiting mismatches by using their tight ends?

SC: Teams are absolutely taking advantages of mismatches, the loss of Glover Quin is showing. This play could have been a foreshawing for the Jared Cook conversion the following week. The splits of the WRs were cut tight and the widest receiver (Anquan Boldin who came across in motion) was well inside of the numbers – a formation very similar to the Rams 3rd-and-6 conversion.

These types of splits immediately put defensive backs in bad positioning and can cause confusion against man-to-man concepts. Vernon Davis ran his drag route which took him across the field; Manning chose to play outside leverage on Davis. He was in trail position from the snap of the ball, there was also traffic that Manning was forced to run over the top of, creating a greater distance between he and the receiver.

The pre-snap alignment was the biggest key to that play’s success. Good formational call against man-to-man coverage. The Texans defense was forced to play softer and the 49ers created a way to rub Vernon Davis free with other players’ routes.

PA: And yet another 3rd down conversion on that same drive. Three plays later: 3rd-and-9 at HOU 10 (2:24 left first quarter), Kaepernick to Boldin, converts and gets San Francisco down to the one-yard line and set up a 49ers touchdown.

Are opponents – and will they continue to – pick on rookie safety Swearinger, especially now that he is starting this week?

SC: Though a rookie, Swearinger can be a weak link in certain coverage situations. On this 3rd-and-9, he is playing a very soft, off technique because he knows his own limits and opponents see this on film. He is such an active tackler and fierce hitter that overall he is an asset to this defense, but one-on-one coverage is not his strength.

In this instance, he saw the quick out breaking route by Anquan Boldin, but he hesitates for a count putting himself behind in a chase position. That was solely his play to make. He gave too much cushion and did not trust what he saw, because his eyes went straight to the QB when the receiver broke off his route.

PA: Looking ahead to this week’s game, the Chiefs appear to have one of the best defenses in the NFL: 18 takeaways, 30 sacks and 10.8 ppg against. What will cause the biggest problem for a Texans offense desperate for a win?

SC: The biggest problem for the Texans against the Chiefs will be handling Kansas City’s front seven. Houston wants to run the ball and get Arian Foster going but KC has two dominant edge pass rushers who play the run just as well. NT Dontari Poe has been sensational this year as a playmaker and a two gapping space eater. They also have great depth across their front, all of them possessing speed and power that can disrupt a zone running scheme.

This Chiefs' defensive line wants to create penetration. LB Derrick Johnson is as instinctive as any linebacker in the game right now and has the speed to react to what his eyes tell him to attack. He will shoot back door against the zone stretch running attack and be active in the passing game as well. They are very deep, very disciplined and extremely opportunistic on defense.

Duane Brown will have to show up this game, and he has been banged up. The Texans are bringing a quarterback to start his first game in the loudest outdoor stadium in the world. That is another matchup in itself.

The best plays to be made are in the passing game with Brandon Flowers banged up. Even if he plays, Andre Johnson will have an advantage. This game is also a time to get DeAndre Hopkins involved, because of his catch and run ability. He can do damage on underneath routes and third down situations. Kendall Wright of the Tennessee Titans was targeted early against the Chiefs and had success (6 rec, 74 yds).

These two players, in my eyes, carry similar skill sets.

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