Pep Hamilton wants to “feature all” Texans playmakers

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13069751ac) Houston Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, center, talks with quarterbacks Davis Mills (10) and Jeff Driskel (6) during an NFL football training camp practice, in Houston Texans Camp Football, Houston, United States – 05 Aug 2022

Pep Hamilton wants to “feature all” Texans playmakers

The Houston Texans’ offensive coordinator discussed the changes that the team has made to the offense and whether they will be permanent.

In Week 14, the Houston Texans, for the first time, unveiled a two-quarterback system that saw them produce their most consistent and balanced offensive attack of the season. The offensive outburst was good for 23 points on the road against the excellent Dallas Cowboys defense and nearly enough to pull off a monumental upset.

As the Texans prepare to face another Super Bowl contender in the Kansas City Chiefs at NRG Stadium this Sunday, Pep Hamilton is hoping that deploying the same system that succeeded versus Dallas proves successful against Kansas City.

Like many new ideas, Hamilton explained the concept of the two-quarterback system was essentially born from necessity.

“We talked about it as a staff. Just what can we do to give us a spark, to really help us on first and second down? Just to create conflicts for the opponent, create conflicts for the defense. To find ways to run the ball so that we can stay out of dreaded third-and-longs. It was good to see both Davis (Mills) and Jeff (Driskel) go out and, at times, really do a good job of executing the offense.”

The Texans’ failures on early downs have greatly hindered their offense by consistently putting them in third-and-long situations. Hamilton has talked in past weeks about defensive fronts putting a defender on each offensive lineman, forcing them all to win one-on-one blocks in order to succeed on a given play. In the coaching staff’s efforts to come up with ideas to be more successful on early downs, this was their best plan to date.

Giving the defense different looks with Jeff Driskel at quarterback and being able to play 11-on-11 football are things the team has dabbled with going back to the preseason.

“If you go back to the preseason, we were able to just find ways to use the quarterback as a plus-one at times. Nevertheless, when Jeff (Driskel) played in games in the preseason as well as this past game, he was able to go out and execute the offense. I think he threw five or six passes. It’s something that from week to week when you’re studying an opponent, you want to find ways to try and create some conflicts and put our guys in the best position to be successful.”

Driskel being in the game forces teams to be aware of the run-pass option (or RPO), something Davis Mills and Kyle Allen have struggled with greatly but that Driskel is adept at both disguising and executing.

“I think not just when Davis (Mills) was in the game; it was times when they bold up inside and did a pretty good job of clogging those interior gaps. We just have to continue to do a good job of mixing both perimeter runs, and interior runs, finding ways to just get the guys the football in space.”

Being able to hold the defense at bay, even for that half second, creates substantially more running room for a ball carrier and changes the direction of the defender. Instead of coming forward full speed in attack mode, a defender is now more flat-footed, or even moving backward. That change in direction makes it easier for Texans linemen to execute their blocks. Hamilton said that Driskel is their best option to run the RPO.

“Teams were starting to pack the box against us, and so one way to counter that is to — and we tried to do in the previous week. We had a third-and-2 at the Browns, and we ended up not having a clean exchange, but that was a similar scheme to some of what you saw against the Cowboys. It’s not something that we haven’t incorporated from week to week. It’s just Jeff (Driskel) brought a different element once he decided to pull the ball and become a runner.”

Executing those blocks will be even more important this week against Kansas City because Dameon Pierce will be unavailable for Houston. Pierce is one of the best running backs in the league at breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact.

“Dameon (Pierce) was one of the best in the league at creating his own yards, so that will be a challenge for us to replace that production. Nevertheless, both Dare (Ogunbowale) and Rex (Burkhead), they’re pros. They’ve been around for a while, and they understand that it’s their time to step up and make some plays.”

Dare Ogunbowale and Rex Burkhead are capable backs in their own right, but they are not the same kind of punishing, physical back as Pierce. They are better when given the opportunity to handle the ball in space.

The Texans made a clear change in their level of execution last week in Dallas. Ogunbowale and Burkhead are more effective as receivers than as between-the-tackles runners. The 2002 Oakland Raiders took advantage of Charlie Garner being a better receiver than between-the-tackles rusher by essentially using short dump-off passes as run plays. Garner had 91 receptions for 941 yards that season in addition to 962 rushing yards on 182 attempts. That kind of combined usage is similar to a bell-cow back getting about 17 carries per game over a 16-game season. Houston could utilize its backs the same way for better production, taking advantage of its strengths and avoiding a known weakness.

Hamilton also extolled Amari Rodgers for his commitment and positive attitude upon joining the team. Rodgers dove into the playbook to be prepared when his number was called. His number was called in Dallas, and he answered the bell.

“Amari (Rodgers) really put the time in since he’s been here with coach Ben McDaniels, just studying the offense, understanding formations. We always challenge our guys to be able to first play without the ball. It was refreshing to see Amari go out there, and the moment wasn’t too big for him. He just went out there and made plays. I have to admit; I had my fingers crossed.”

Hamilton also acknowledged the improved play of quarterback Davis Mills.

“I think fundamentally he was better. We talked about this last week this time. Just going into, it was all about really anchoring at the top of his drops, having good posture in the pocket, so that he can react and relocate and respond when the pocket was starting to get noisy. You saw that he was able to anchor. His feet were not hardly as noisy as they were in previous weeks, and he got the ball out on schedule.”

Mills’ play was visibly better. He made crisper throws, faster decisions, and demonstrated the ability to decipher when to zip the ball and when to utilize more touch. Mills’ footwork has been a subject of consternation all season, and Hamilton thought the difference last week was a big reason why Mills was on time with throws.

“Without a doubt. We have to get the ball out on schedule. Get the ball into the pass receivers, the (running) backs, get the ball into their hands in the passing game immediately after they make their breaks, and give them a chance to run after catch. Davis (Mills) did a really good job of doing that this past Sunday.”

As far as what else the team can do with its two quarterback system?

“We’ll see. We’re just brainstorming ways to feature all our playmakers.”

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