A year ago, Deshaun Watson was sacked an NFL-most 62 times, more than any quarterback in 12 seasons. So just before the season started, the Houston Texans took steps to bolster Watson’s protection by trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. After the first week of the 2019 season, it’s more of the same for Houston.
The Texans’ offensive line allowed Watson to be sacked an NFL-high six times in Week 1, including four in the pivotal fourth quarter of a close game against the Saints. Tunsil did not magically fix the offensive line and Watson, a great player who can lead the Texans to glory if only he could remain upright, had very little time to throw. His heroics were on full display when he got his team a late lead with two big passes — both of which he had to deliver quickly because the pressure was right in his face, and on both plays he was hit after delivering the ball.
It’s possible that some of the problems were due to the line being without starting left guard Tytus Howard and with Tunsil still getting familiar with his new team. But after reviewing the six sacks, it’s clear the line still has a long way to go.
All six sacks came on plays where the Texans needed at least 10 yards for the first down, and half of them came on third-and-long. Watson had almost no time to even look and see who was open.
Below, we’ll break down each sack and take part in one of our favorite pastimes: assigning blame. For the record, the starting Houston offensive line (in Week 1, anyway) was, from left to right: No. 78 Laremy Tunsil, No. 64 Senio Kelemete, No. 66 Nick Martin, No. 73 Zach Fulton, and No. 76 Seantrel Henderson.
Sack 1: -6 yards (Cameron Jordan)
Time: 13:31 in the first quarter
Situation: third-and-15, Houston 33-yard line
Here, we have an overwhelming bullrush from Marcus Davenport. Jordan, the man who is usually first off the line, delays slightly and comes around virtually unblocked.
It’s not quite a full-on stunt, but it gets Kelemete tied up enough that when Henderson loses containment on his man on the right side, Watson steps right up into a sack. There’s no room for him to get set, let alone complete a pass.
Had Henderson not lost coverage, Watson might have been able to get a pass downfield. The running back also probably should have been focused on the interior more than the outside, but that could be on the play call.
Who was at fault: Henderson
Sack 2: -4 yards (Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle)
Time: 8:31 in the first quarter
Situation: second-and-10, Houston 21-yard line
Here’s one that goes, well, extremely poorly all-around. The Saints pull off a pretty fantastic delayed blitz/stunt combo and though it’s coming around the right side, it’s hard to pin the blame on Henderson again.
Tunsil is the only one who handled his assignment perfectly. It’s also possible that Fulton is supposed to take Henderson’s guy and Henderson never sees the linebacker coming in.
They’re focused on double-teams, and that rarely worked out in this game because the Saints saw them coming. Often, at least one of the three interior linemen was essentially blocking nobody.
Who was at fault: Play call/everyone but Tunsil
Sack 3: -6 yards (Alex Anzalone)
Time: 13:01 in the fourth quarter
Situation: first-and-10, New Orleans 44-yard line
The failure point is Tunsil, the best player on the line. He tries to chip Davenport, but Kelemete has him under control. Tunsil basically whiffs and somehow misses Anzalone, who was obviously blitzing on the play. Whether that’s a call that should have been made at the line is unclear, but there’s no excuse for not picking up that block.
I will call out Duke Johnson as doing his damndest to block two guys, but Anzalone wasn’t his responsibility, even if he literally dove to try to save the play. Once again, Watson is turning around to get set by the time he has a defender in his face.
Who was at fault: Tunsil
Sack 4: -6 yards (Trey Hendrickson)
Time: 11:33 in the fourth quarter
Situation: third-and-17, Houston 49-yard line (holding on RT, declined)
For the bulk of this play, Martin and Fulton don’t block anybody, and Kelemete gets lost almost immediately. Henderson gets overwhelmed on the right side and is actually called for holding on the play.
Either way, Henderson losing his man is what makes Watson have to step up and begin scrambling. By then, Tunsil’s original man wraps around the other side and the rest of the line is scrambling.
That said, Tunsil is the only guy on the field who makes clean blocks on the play, and once Hendrickson goes around the other way, he’s no longer Tunsil’s responsibility.
Who was at fault: Everyone but Tunsil
Sack 5: -1 yard (P.J. Williams)
Time: 5:47 in the fourth quarter
Situation: first-and-10, New Orleans 43-yard line
Pretty straightforward here. At first glance, it looks like the entire line (again, except for Tunsil) gets bullrushed. But Martin, Fulton, and Henderson eventually hold up, which would have established a decent pocket if not for Kelemete completely getting beat.
Who was at fault: Kelemete
Sack 6: -11 yards (Hendrickson)
Time: 4:25 in the fourth quarter
Situation: third-and-11, New Orleans 44-yard line
This is the only sack that Watson perhaps has some time to throw, so a little blame goes on him.
But, ultimately, he needs better protection from Tunsil, his left tackle. Kelemete, the backup starting for the injured Howard, is also beat, and it’s his man that Watson sees first. The right side holds up pretty well.
Who was at fault: Tunsil, Kelemete, and Watson
As far as what to expect out of Houston’s offensive line the rest of the season, the biggest issue is that not a single one of the plays above are coverage sacks. I put this article together before the coaches’ film was available, so you don’t see much of the receivers in my GIFs but trust me: they were pretty much exclusively running deep routes and Watson’s protection broke down almost immediately every time.
Most of the sacks involved missed assignments as a result of double-teams, and not many guys being outright manhandled. That could be due to this unit still being relatively unfamiliar with each other with Tunsil, the anchor, as the newest piece. Too many times a guard was forced out of the play by impressively designed blitzes. Those are coachable things, for the line and for Watson’s ability to make adjustments before the snap. Unfortunately, the guys who did get beat were both starting tackles and Kelemete.
More than anything, the Texans got outschemed and the takeaway from this is fairly simple: there are definitely some fixable problems, but this still isn’t a great offensive line, and it will probably continue to struggle throughout the season. Watson has shown he’s got what it takes to carry the team, but he can only do so much if he’s sacked six times every game.