The Houston Texans are 11-38-1 over the last three seasons with three different head coaches. Hoping to turn their fate around, they decided to go with first time head coach and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, himself a former Texans player.
In Ryans’ return home, he will need immediate success to avoid the same fate as his predecessors. This likely means drafting a quarterback, which is clearly a hole and is the quickest means to success.
However, Ryans will have to select the right quarterback, and not before picking an offensive coordinator. There will be many options, but the answer, in my opinion, is clear. If Ryans sticks to what he’s familiar with and brings over an offensive coordinator capable of running the Shanahan system, the foundation will be laid perfectly for Alabama QB Bryce Young to be the franchise quarterback.
Bryce Young Prospect Overview
Regarded by many as the top quarterback in this class, Young is at his best when the pocket is at its muddiest. His pocket maneuvering is among the top of the class, as he keeps his eyes downfield under pressure and, despite untraditional footwork, is quickly able to reset his base and deliver a throw.
However, it is in structure that his biggest flaw begins to reveal itself.
His size is unprecedented for a quarterback. Many anticipate that he may come in at under 5’10”. This, combined with his listed weight of 194 pounds, would be historically slight for someone as highly touted as Young has been this draft cycle.
This, of course, presents some issues. Namely, Young struggled to make throws over the middle of the field. At his size, it’s likely he had trouble seeing in-breaking routes over one of the biggest offensive lines in the country. However, his staff didn’t do him any favors. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien consistently ran traditional concepts and lacked creativity, specifically in the play action game, which is where Young could improve the most.
On the contrary, the system that Young fits best could be the one Ryans brings in. Kyle Shanahan and his disciples have created an offense that is best suited for physically limited quarterbacks, especially ones limited by height, the same way Young is.
In particular, it is their manufactured pocket concepts, namely on play action and RPOs, that could maximize Young’s quick trigger while limiting the amount of bodies between him and the receiver. Thus, the goal of this film study is to display Kyle Shanahan and his disciples’ concepts, and how they can be implemented to mask Young’s deficiencies while allowing him to become more comfortable in the structure of the pocket.
The Quick Game
On tape, Bryce Young didn’t have many issues in the quick game. Passes were typically on time and accurate. However, there are instances, especially within the Mike McDaniel version of the Kyle Shanahan system, where shorter concepts are drawn out for fractions longer in order to get receivers farther down the field and over the middle. This would, typically at least, require Young to sit in and make throws over significantly taller linemen.
However, McDaniel devised a solution for this with his own slight-framed Alabama QB: Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has a difficult time seeing throwing windows due to his size, but McDaniel has utilized play action and slides in protection to open up lanes for his franchise QB:
In this instance, Miami sells the fake with slides from each of their five offensive lineman. This moves each of the linemen off the ball, and thus accomplishes two main goals. First off, each of the linebackers were drawn in and away from the route by Jaylen Waddle. Second, and more importantly, this creates a clear throwing lane between Tua and Waddle, making it much easier for Tagovailoa to see the route and throw to the spot.
Plays like this are used by just about every Shanahan-based offense in the NFL, and can easily be implemented to create easier throws in areas that Bryce Young otherwise wouldn’t see as well. If Young can be as precise as he was in college, these “gimmes” would open up the other areas of the field that he thrives on attacking.
The Next Level
As you can see with the first clip, the goal of opening up these passing windows is getting to the opposite hash. If a quarterback is able to get to that far hash, they now have an extra six yards or so of open field to attack. This is huge for Shanahan and his disciples, who emphasize getting to space and maximizing YAC opportunities.
Thus, a quarterback must be a threat to throw it anywhere on the field, even when they are on the opposite hash. Defenses, naturally, are going to crowd the middle and near side when they see a QB rolling that way. This, in turn, vacates massive windows away from the rollout side.
The issue, however, is whether the quarterback can hit them, and that’s where the dilemma is for Young. At his size and level of pure arm strength, his ability to take the system to the next level may be one of concern. The concepts similar to the play action shown earlier become harder to hit when defenses realize a quarterback is only threatening a smaller portion of the field.
We’ve seen this story before with Tagovailoa, who defenses know is only a threat over the middle of the field. This is a possible explanation for Tagovailoa’s struggles down the stretch, when defenses realized this tendency and capitalized.
It was even before that, however, that the worst case scenario, and the one that Houston and Young would need to avoid, unfolded right before Miami’s eyes.
The Worst Case Scenario
Cut to week four of the 2022 season. Miami is facing the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami is 3-0 and didn’t have to use much variation on offense to get to that point.
Thus, a game against the reigning AFC champions was the perfect opportunity, in the eyes of Mike McDaniel, to test the limits of Tua Tagovailoa. This is seen for the first time on the second drive of the game, where McDaniel dials up a shot play.
This play, at least in its setup, is fairly similar to the first play in this article. Play action, utilized to move the lineman and vacate space for Tua to move to the hash. However, in this scenario, the rollout is also used to widen the safeties and make them commit. Bengals safety Jessie Bates moves down to collapse on Waddle’s out breaker, while Vonn Bell hesitates for a split second.
This opens up the window for the shot to Tyreek Hill. It’s a difficult throw, but with Bates out of phase, there’s room to hit it.
Tua unloads it downfield, and it’s here where we see his limitations. The ball is far short, and Bell is able to make a play and come up with the interception.
This play shows the clear ceiling for physically limited quarterbacks, such as Tagovailoa and Young, over the top. However, it’s the next play that provides clues as to where Young must be able to hit throws in order to thrive.
Insult to Injury
McDaniel, based on the interception in the clip above, had begun to see his quarterback’s limitations. However, he still wanted to attack the opposite side of the field. Instead of dialing up another shot play, he gave Tua a deep out breaker to Jaylen Waddle.
This play is by far the most obvious example of a manufactured pocket from the Shanahan tree. At the top of his drop, Tua has nobody within at least five yards of him, and has Jaylen Waddle running wide open towards the opposite sideline.
Yet again, however, we begin to see Tua’s physical limitations at play, and how they lead to indecision and ultimately injury.
After taking the shot earlier in the game (and suffering the consequences), Tua doubts his talents on this throw. It would have to be on a rope, and Tagovailoa has had consistent issues pushing the ball from the far hash.
Despite the open window to hit Waddle for a big gain, Tua hesitates and tucks the ball, bouncing around the pocket and attempting to create something downfield. This, ultimately, leads to a sack and the first of Tagovailoa’s reported concussions this season.
If Young is to succeed with Ryans (or in any Shanahan system), this is where he must separate himself. The throws will be there, and with Young’s frame, he has to hit them, or at least take the chance, to keep defenses guessing and keep himself out of trouble.
The Best Case Scenario
Tua’s game against the Bengals makes clear that the Shanahan system, while reputed for being a quarterback’s best friend, can also expose some of their biggest flaws.
When everything goes right, however, it’s a sight to be seen, and a prime example of this can be seen with Trey Lance in a game against the Houston Texans.
The premise, once again, is pretty simple. San Francisco sells run to the boundary side, and rolls Lance out past the field side hash. This, combined with the crosser from the boundary side receiver, concentrates the defense towards the field.
Meanwhile, Deebo Samuel is running a post across the face of the high safety, and with nobody to take him underneath, the throw is wide open. Yet, unlike Tua, Lance unleashes a laser across the field, puts it in a spot where Deebo can go get it, and San Francisco gets an explosive touchdown.
So Which One is Young?
Trey Lance has a cannon, and makes 40+ yard throws across the field look simple, while Tua Tagovailoa is among the weaker pure arms in the league. One has shown in limited time the potential to transcend the offense. The other, while operating at a high level, has shown that flaws will eventually reveal themselves in even the friendliest of systems.
As is the case between two extremes, Young likely lies somewhere in the middle.
He doesn’t have the pure arm of Lance, plain and simple. His deep ball was inconsistent at best at Alabama, and Lance was regarded as one of the strongest arms in the league entering his rookie year.
However, I still believe that Young has an arm capable of making the throws that Tagovailoa has struggled with, especially in the intermediate game.
Young’s tape is full of far hash throws from a variety of distances. Whether it’s out breakers with more than enough zip or deep shots down the sideline, the flashes are definitely there.
This would give him the requisite strength to threaten each third of the field, even when moved out into the manufactured pockets that, as I described, are a staple of a Shanahan system. It is when that is combined with his natural ability to make plays outside of structure (which far exceeds the aforementioned Tagovailoa and Lance), we begin to see how special the pairing of Young and Houston could be.
However, it isn’t Bryce that has to make the first step in this development. Despite being hired in Houston, Ryans has yet to select an offensive coordinator. It’s clear that bringing someone over from San Francisco would be a strong move, and one that trends in the right direction if they are to pair him with Bryce Young.