HomeFootball DirtTexans Defense Demonstrated How to Temporarily Contain Lamar Jackson

Texans Defense Demonstrated How to Temporarily Contain Lamar Jackson

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For 30 minutes, it looked like the Houston Texans could pull off the upset in the divisional round. They went into halftime against the favored Baltimore Ravens — the AFC’s top seed — tied 10-10. They’d limited the league’s fourth-ranked scoring offense to a single touchdown. They did so in a very un-Texans way. They got that far by blitzing the hell out of Lamar Jackson. The Texans put an early lasso on 2023’s presumptive MVP with continual pressure. Head coach DeMeco Ryans was content to leave five players in his secondary, chancing single coverage against Zay Flowers (who is good), Odell Beckham Jr. (who is 31 years old) and a supporting cast of Rashod Bateman, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar and Nelson Agholor (who are …fine).

When Jackson had time to throw — via extra protection or escaping pressure to extend plays — he exploited these holes for short, impactful gains: NELLY TD 🚨 Tune in on ESPN/ABC pic.twitter.com/AGLkttkJhm — Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 20, 2024 But Jackson had little time to look downfield early on. Only three of his first half passes traveled more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in a game that was knotted at halftime. This was because Ryans’ pressure — and the relentless pursuit of linebacker Christian Harris — gave him time to look upfield OR fire off a proper pass, but rarely both. enjoying DeMeco Ryans’ “throw bodies at Lamar Jackson until he dies” defense pic.twitter.com/CcMDrhpmQd — Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 20, 2024 This wasn’t standard operating procedure for Houston. The Texans’ 21.0 percent blitz rate was the fifth-lowest in the NFL. Per Next Gen Stats, they brought extra pass rushers on 13 of Jackson’s 18 dropbacks in the first half — 72 percent. When they didn’t to open up the second half, the explosive dual-threat quarterback made them pay. EIGHT THE GREAT❗ Tune in on ESPN/ABC! pic.twitter.com/JjaVabFmBk — Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 20, 2024 Houston’s four-man rush still did work to collapse in on Jackson on the play above, but the sudden vacancy up the middle created the vacuum Baltimore rode to a 15-yard rushing touchdown. It’s a run play all the way, designed to look like a pass. And while offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s call may have been meant to capitalize on the Texans’ aggression, this one worked in spite of the extra defenders at the second level. This success wasn’t limited to Jackson runs. Giving him time in the pocket did more than just create extra running lanes. After attempting (and completing) only one pass that traveled at least 15 yards downfield in Houston’s heavy-pressure first half, he added three more in his first two drives after halftime — drives that covered 148 total yards and ended in two touchdowns. Texans rush 4 again, give Lamar Jackson a bunch of time, then pay for it pic.twitter.com/fxpEgctx9r — Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 20, 2024 When Houston was less aggressive, it got shredded en route to a 34-10 loss. This isn’t to say the Texans lost because they couldn’t blitz forever. They probably would have been beaten even if they’d kept up that aggression. That’s because… Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports While the Texans’ first half was a testament to how opponents could slow Jackson’s passing game, it wasn’t something on which the Ravens’ AFC title game foe can rely. Houston made its blitz-heavy defense work because it was especially uncharacteristic for a conservative unit. And once Monken caught wind of what was happening and found space to make changes, it was curtains for the visitors. There’s no better example than the Ravens’ first two touchdowns of the second half. Jackson’s designed draw, seen above, was implemented to get Houston’s linebackers moving upfield, then run right past them after a small delay. The Texans didn’t blitz and it still didn’t pay off, as the middle of the field was empty enough regardless that the seven guys in coverage couldn’t get to the quarterback until he was already at the goal line. The second touchdown played on this. Jackson’s draw was a run play that looked like a pass. His heave to Isaiah Likely to take a 24-10 lead was a pass play that looked like a run. A BEAUTY! @Lj_era8 to @DaGorilla4 for 6 🔥 Tune in on ESPN/ABC pic.twitter.com/07ZO3NrM6g — Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 20, 2024 Again, Monken’s play (well, actually, Greg Roman’s) sucks an aggressive defense in one direction, then uncorks the ball — this time through the air — in another for six points. On a day where the Ravens’ run game averaged 5.5 yards per carry, that’s all Baltimore needed. Houston still brought pressure, just at a lower rate. After three first half sacks and five quarterback hits, Jackson’s jersey stayed clean in the second half unless he was crashing into the end zone. The Texans didn’t register a single lick on him behind the line of scrimmage, leaving all the room Baltimore needed to run away to a win. This was thanks to Monken, who ensured his quarterback had plenty of short-range targets to exploit when he faced five or more rushers. Lamar Jackson faced a career-high 75.0% blitz rate, completing 13 of 18 passes against the blitz for 120 yards & 2 TD. Jackson got rid of the ball more than a second quicker vs the blitz in the 2nd half (2.25 seconds) compared to the first half (3.51).#HOUvsBAL | #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/j49zz4jjEr — Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 21, 2024 What did we learn from the first game of the AFC side of the divisional round? That Jackson can be gotten to, but probably not for long. And once the Ravens figured that out, Houston never stood a chance.

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