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Titans Week 12 Enemy Profile: The Houston Texans offensive line

They’re not getting Deshaun Watson killed?

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I did not forget to do the Enemy Profile for this week’s matchup.

The rest of the country has the misfortune of seeing the Titans on Monday Night Football for a second time (though they usually seem to win there) on the road against the Texans, a team they beat in Week 2. Normally for my Enemy Profiles I like to focus on one individual player or coach.

This time I’m focusing on the entire Texans offensive line.

Entering the 2018 season we all thought Houston would have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and for a while they did. Deshaun Watson was constantly getting beaten up and actually suffered a partially collapsed lung and a broken rib in the middle of it all.

The pass protection has given up 85 quarterback hits, the most through the first 11 weeks on the season. HOWEVER, since Week 7 the unit has cooled down significantly, only allowing 10 QB hits from Weeks 7-11, the fourth fewest in that span (behind the Colts, 3, Browns, 8, and Saints, 9).

So what changed? Well, Bill O’Brien—to an extent—has come to his senses and built a scheme that wasn't perfect, but better protected Watson by returning to a focus on play action and cutting down somewhat on the vertical passing game.

So really, it’s less about the offensive line protecting Watson and more that this unit is being enhanced by a better use of personnel. For more on that, let’s take a look at a few clips.

We know that the Texans offensive line cannot be trusted in a traditional vertical passing game, which is why O’Brien installed quicker passing into the mix. And to his credit this is an excellent route combination. He uses a switch concept with DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas (yes, THAT Demaryius Thomas from the Broncos) with Thomas’ route being used to create space for Hopkins’.

The coverage on the play from Josh Norman is actually pretty good, but the throw from Watson and the catch by Hopkins were ultimately too much. The double blocking on the interior is also crucial, as it afford Watson just enough time to fire the touchdown pass.

There’s no way you’ll get sacked on a quick screen, so that’s one way the offensive line has been boosted (or in this case offset) by play calling. Demaryius Thomas, in his debut as a Texan (coincidentally against his old team in Denver), gets the call here, and it goes for over 30 yards.

The blocks from the right tackle Kendall Lamm and rookie tight end Jordan Thomas are really what set this up. By focusing on putting blockers in space, there’s less pressure for the Texans to hold the fort for their quarterback.

As I mentioned, the Texans use of play action has come back to bless them. In 2017 the Texans built an offense around Watson that was heavy on play action, option, and zone read. To start this season they shifted away from that, but somewhere in between their seven game win streak they returned to that.

Houston employs a seven-man protection scheme here, with the tight end Ryan Griffin (#84) lining up as a fullback. Once again Demaryius Thomas’ route clears up space for Hopkins’ and he is able to pick up the first down on the crosser route.

The key here is that on the zone blocking scheme Watson gets key double blocking on his blind side as well as on the near side. And by having receivers that can stretch the field vertically, Bill O’Brien is able to set up route combinations that easily get them open. That’s; how the Texans have been able to put less pressure on Watson during their winning streak.

Keep in mind that the Redskins and Broncos both have talented pass rushes. The Titans have a solid pass rush, but they could be susceptible to biting on the play action intermediate/vertical scheme the Texans run. So this is something to keep in mind for tonight’s AFC South showdown.