I wanted to try something different this week. I’m basically writing on PSR whenever I get a chance, so sorry that these posts are sporadic and without fair warning. Leading up to last weekend, I was exciting about watching the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens face off. The injuries to Ray Rice and Duane Brown took some of the shine off the game, but I was still intrigued by the matchup.
Ultimately, the game was disappointing. The Ravens blew out the Texans, but the Texans pretty much beat themselves so there wasn’t really anything positive on show.
The biggest play of the game came in the second quarter with 01:05 left to play. It was a special teams touchdown return from backup receiver Tandon Doss. Much like the rest of the game, it was a result of very uninspiring play from the Texans. John Harbaugh is known for being an outstanding special teams coach before he became a Super Bowl winning head coach, but it’s hard to give him any real credit here in place of blame for the Texans.
The Ravens have two defenders/blockers on the edges in front of the Texans’ two gunners. Shane Lechler, the Texans punter, is a hall of fame caliber punter and he had an outstanding game, but he lets this one get away from him a little bit. Lechler is able to get rid of the punt comfortably, but he out kicks his coverage…and not in the good way.
A part of me really wants to think that the Texans are intentionally running their gunners out of bounds so easily, but that is probably just because this lack of effort and simply terrible play always infuriates me. Both of the Texans gunners are taken out by the time Lechler punts the ball. They are both pushed out of bounds with ease, but it doesn’t take much effort to get them there.
It actually may have helped the Texans, which is why I touched on the idea of intentionally doing this, because by running straight out of bounds, the Ravens are committing four blockers to two potential tacklers and they’re far away from the football.
When Doss catches the ball, the Ravens have one player in a position to block anyone and he is nowhere near the immediate tackler. The Texans have six potential tacklers arriving to contain Doss to a short gain, but crucially, only four of those defenders are in a line.
The first potential tackler is in a good position to make a tackle on Doss, but he’s arriving at speed and Doss is in vast amounts of space. Doss takes a hard step infield before turning back towards the near sideline. The Texans player has no chance to stop him as his momentum drags him towards the Ravens’ end zone.
As the above diagram shows, the Texans second level of potential tacklers are working together and keeping in a line to prevent any holes from appearing for Doss to break through. When Doss moves inside the first potential tackler, the outside duo on that line come into focus.
Doss cuts towards the outside shoulder of the most outside defender on the Texans’ second line of potential tacklers. The Texans overplayed the inside, while the gunner who was initially beat at the line of scrimmage is now to the bottom left of this image, trying to recover into a position where he can make a tackle.
Crucially, because two blockers are still with the gunner, the Texans do have another body outside the defender who furthest to the left on the second line of potential tacklers.
However, because that extra defender on the end of the line isn’t as deep as the others on the second line of potential tacklers, a gap is created for Doss to attack.
With just two quick sidesteps and some terrible discipline on the coverage, Tandon Doss found his way into space against the punter. From there, Lechler had no chance at all to prevent Doss from running untouched into the end zone.
There are a lot of differences between playing defense, playing offense and playing special teams in the NFL. Three necessities exist across all three though: Effort, the Texans gunners didn’t show enough effort to get down the sideline; Discipline, the Texans defenders who didn’t come up in a line withe their teammates took themselves out of the play and created holes in the coverage; Awareness, the Texans coverage showed no awareness, but Doss showed plenty.
Of course, the ultimate equalizer is always going to be individual talent also, because while the Texans failed in all facets listed above, the Ravens didn’t have a single player in a good position to block a potential tackler on Doss’ return.
Six points is six points no matter how you get them.
Cian Fahey is the Film Room Writer for FootballOutsiders, an analyst for Bleacher Report and a columnist for FootballGuys. You can follow his articles on twitter @Cianaf