As the offensive coordinator and the head coach of the Houston Texans, Bill O’Brien is responsible for all offensive production.
Last season, O’Brien was forced to alter his scheme twice, once after declaring Deshaun Watson his starting Quarterback going into Week 2, and again entering Week 9 after Watson’s ACL tear. Implementing a game-plan for Watson and then again for Tom Savage couldn’t have been more different.
One strength that worked well for O’Brien was manipulating his receiver’s routes week to week in order to bait and exploit defensive matchups.
Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, the Texans were forced to reach further in their playbook than any previous game in order to keep up with the quick pace of play.
In the second quarter, with the game tied 14-14, Houston ran the below play.
We’ll come back to this play and its significance later.
Prior to the above play, Watson had already targeted Fuller twice in the game.
Fuller’s first completion was caught for a touchdown after running a deep post route down the middle of the field.
After that, he drew a pass interference call, again deep down the middle of the field.
In Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans, the Texans run this play:
Lined up in Singleback with max protection, Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins are the only two receivers running routes.
Lamar Miller did leak from the middle as a check-down option, but Watson was able to complete the pass to Fuller who found a hole in the zone coverage.
The following week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston runs the same play, again in Singleback, with max protection, and an underneath option.
Having run this play twice, both times leading to a touchdown, it’s definitely a play that O’Brien will continue to use in the future.
The problem is that opposing defenses review game film and cater their strategy to their opponent’s tendencies. It’s the offensive adjustments to a defensive scheme that separates good from great coaches.
Against the Seahawks, it would make sense to return to the deep crosses play with max protection as each team was going back and forth on the scoreboard.
The problem is that you’re going against the Legion of Boom, one of the savviest and most aware secondaries in football.
So, Bill O’Brien adjusts the play.
Richard Sherman reads the play as the crosses, likely what he’s seen on game film all week and also where Fuller has been targeted twice before in the game.
Sherman leans into the route, playing the middle of the field, right when he does – Will Fuller breaks outside.
Fuller loses Sherman in space and by the time the cornerback tries to recover, it’s too late.
It’s plays like this, anticipating what your opponent is going to do versus what you actually run, that makes preparation vital to an offensive strategy.
This isn’t the first time O’Brien’s manipulated plays in order to bait defenses.
Against the Titans, he ran a post route with Fuller twice in the same quarter.
The first time they run the play, Watson overthrows Fuller.
Later in the quarter, Fuller runs the same route and draws the flag, giving the Texans the ball at the one-yard line.
In their next game against the Cleveland Browns, O’Brien alters Fuller’s post route.
Here, Fuller sells like he’s breaking towards the middle, which is where Jabrill Peppers plays the ball, instead, Fuller breaks outside, changing the play from last week and getting the touchdown.
These are just two examples of O’Brien anticipating what the defense expects and reversing their expectations on them for large gains.