Tim Kelly is Missing the Peanut Butter to his Jelly

The Houston Texans have a non-existent run game and it's killing their offense

Peanut butter is pivotal to many effective dishes - a PB&J just wouldn't have the right balance without peanut butter, a Pad Thai just wouldn't have the same nutty flavor without peanut butter and the Houston Texans offense just doesn't run smoothly without peanut butter.

In many ways, an offensive coordinator's run game is similar to a chef's peanut butter. They are moldable to the personnel they're paired with, both can be versatile in how they are deployed and often times neither are the center of attention, but the carefully crafted masterpiece would fall apart without it.

Just like peanut butter, the run game is supposed to be a reliable element that offensive coordinators use as a foundation to build off of. The best minds in the game force defenses to respect the run and put them in conflict of assignment to create advantages in the passing game.

We've all heard the phrase, "Establish the run" and I think Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach, Brandon Staley talks about the importance of the run game with quite a refreshing perspective.

At its bare bones, an offense can only choose two options to try and gain yardage - run, or pass. So when one of those key cogs in the engine is faulty, the other cog must work overtime and often pays the price.

We see this concept with the Houston Texans, who have a -26.1% overall offensive DVOA (30th in NFL), a -38.6% rushing DVOA (31st) and a -9.9% passing DVOA (28th). Furthermore, the run game has seen plenty of volume with 26 attempts per game (14th) and a 46% rush play percentage (7th), but little efficiency with 83 yards per game (26th), and a league-worst 3.2 yards per carry (32nd).

Furthering this problem has been the Texans' desire to run the ball on early downs. According to the Cook Index, before Week Four, the Texans had the highest run rate on "early downs" at 58%, compared to the NFL average of 47%. These runs have often resulted in 2nd or 3rd and long, a disadvantageous position for the passing game to flourish. Thus, Tim Kelly has lost the Jelly that made me excited about his play calling in the first game and a half.

Before we get into the multiple reasons as to why the run game has been this ineffective and hurt the overall offense, let's talk about why Kelly has continued to run the ball, despite poor results. That sentiment certainly seems like a crazy scientist moment, but it's because the Texans passing offense with Davis Mills, has at times gained less net yards per play than a run, and Kelly's best passing concepts revolve around the threat of the run.

Play Action Believe It Or Not

Through the first six quarters of the season with QB Tyrod Taylor at the helm, the Texans offense was operating smoothly, exactly how I like my peanut butter. They dropped 37 on the Jaguars with ease and had 14 points vs the Browns midway through the 2nd quarter. A large part of this was because of Taylor being a superior QB to Mills, but also the easy yardage and chunk plays gained from a run fake.

While the 2-RB sets have been more flash than substance recently, Kelly was able to maximize that personnel group in Week One. Here, the run fake draws the attention of multiple Jaguars which gets David Johnson open in space for an easy first down.

Those easy, uncontested yards are created due to Kelly adding multiple moving parts in one play, confusing the defense. Like a good dribble move in basketball, you need to sell your opponent in one direction, then attack elsewhere. By selling the run fake, it influences the linebackers at the 2nd level of the defense and opens up massive throwing windows down the field.

Arguably Kelly's best play call of his career came on a screen pass which, you guessed it, was so effective because of a run fake (two actually!).

When the defense has a reason to stop the run and engage in the physical aspect of football, it leaves them vulnerable in other areas. Kelly knows he doesn't have the Bucs or Rams' wide receivers out there to consistently get open on their own, and that Cooks, Conley and Miller's (now Amendola's) potential can be maximized through help via the run game.

However, when opposing teams see game after game that the Texans rushing offense is incredibly inefficient, they lose reason to respect it and run fakes no longer garner the attention of the defense.

Take this play versus the Panthers in Week Three as an example. The Texans are running their beloved Yankee concept and are trying to draw in the LBs with the run fake, then attack behind them. However, Shaq Thompson (7) and Jermaine Carter (4) don't bite and gain great depth on WR Anthony Miller (3) on the crosser. The throw grazes the fingertips of Thompson and is incomplete, largely due to a big hit by the safety.

We see that defenses are losing respect for the Texans' ground game, knowing that they don't need to sell out to stop the run, largely because the Texans shoot themselves in the foot.

What's Going Wrong? Everything

The heart of the Texans' run game issues is something that no fan wants to hear or accept - a lack of execution. Plan and simple, this offensive line is not performing up to expectations.

A combined three first-round picks and two second-round picks have been used to add Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard and Max Scharping. Marcus Cannon was acquired for fourth and sixth-round picks (gaining a fifth and sixth in return) and in total, the entire line is being paid 53 million this year alone. That number accounts for 27% of our total cap spending and is the 2nd highest paid position group behind our Secondary at 28%.

With the immense resources poured into the offensive line and a new position coach with great historical success whom I and many, were happy with the hiring of, the Texans are running out of excuses for poor line play. Furthermore, no matter which direction we've run, it's been ugly.

*Houston Texans Directional Rushing Charts via Sports Info Solutions


Usually NFL teams have one side of the line performing better than the other, or two teammates that work particularly well together and offensive coordinators can lean into that. On the Texans, every single lineman has been responsible for missing numerous assignments and they are failing to work together. Moving Howard to left guard to form a formidable duo with Tunsil hasn't consistently reaped the benefits in the run game that the coaches hoped to sew.

A major issue in my opinion is the miss-evaluation in talent amongst all five offensive linemen, particularly in their body type/skillset composition. Tunsil-Howard-Britt-Scharping-Cannon is a MASSIVE group of men. They average out to be 6'5 6/8 and 322lbs, with that type of size comes expected strengths and weaknesses.

You're looking to benefit from their raw size with the strength and power to create push in the run game and block with a physical mentality to suck the life out of defenses. On the other hand, you're willing to sacrifice some athleticism because you are certain you can just maul defenses and enforce your will.

However, we don't see that devastating power from this group, which is particularly obvious on our gap runs up the middle. Versus the Panthers, we are running "Duo", where we execute two double teams on the two opposing defensive tackles. However, the combination of Tunsil+Howard vs Derrick Brown (#95) and Britt+Scharping vs DaQuan Jones (#90) gets zero push past the line of scrimmage.

The Panthers are able to occupy 4 offensive linemen with just 2 defensive linemen, give up zero ground, and allow Safety Jeremy Chinn (#21) to come unblocked for the tackle. Scharping never came off his double team, largely because they simply couldn't move the nose tackle more than one inch off the ball!

This lack of push has caused our runs up the middle to infuriate fans for years and rightfully so. The line was built for those mauling types of runs, but we aren't having success on them, so Kelly has tried different things such as zone. However, zone runs to the left or right have been ineffective as well and this is largely due to the lack of athleticism previously mentioned.

Nowadays, zone-heavy run teams have opted to deploy lighter offensive linemen weighing around 305-315lbs and have great explosiveness plus lateral mobility. These superior athletes are necessary to make the reach blocks that fuel a zone scheme, but the Texans made that sacrifice in athleticism when they built the o-line with the personnel they did.

On this zone run vs the Panthers, it's Tunsil (78) who fails to make the reach block on Derrick Brown (95). Brown is lined up as a 3-tech and Tunsil is supposed to cross his assignment's face and gain the proper leverage. He gains zero help from Howard (71), who is supposed to get a hand on Brown and slow down his get-off.

So many things went wrong on an otherwise well-designed play - it's quite hard to blame Kelly for this one. They motion Miller across the formation which drags LB Thompson out of the box and even use misdirection by lining up Lindsay to the right of the QB in shotgun. This would lead the defense to believe the run is going to the left, but it's actually going to the right. Unfortunately, no matter how well a play is drawn up, it doesn't matter if the execution is poor.

That poor athleticism from our line has been evident on power concepts too and was especially apparent vs DT Ed Oliver and the Bills. Britt (68) is supposed to make a "down" block on the uber-athletic Oliver (91), who is a 3-tech to the right of Scharping (74). This is a lot of ground to cover, but most NFL centers can make this block, it's expected out of them as the historically most athletic player on the line. Britt is not that dude though especially after his season-ending knee surgery.

This lack of athleticism is being paired with poor fundamentals, even from veterans and thus we are allowing instant penetration into the backfield. Versus the Browns, Cannon (61) is beat off the snap by Jadeveon Clowney (90) and Cannon plays with such high pad level that he lunges when engaging. He is not able to make contact and Clowney get's the TFL as a result.

So the Texans have sacrificed athleticism for power, but have ended up lacking both elements from their line. They are struggling to make their blocks at the first level of the defense (the DL) which is the foundation of every run play. That alone leads to crowded rush lanes, but even when the first level is blocked, we fail to block the 2nd level of the defense (the LBs).

While all five linemen have struggled with this, I wanted to point out Tunsil again, because he has the highest expectations and isn't living up to them. On this power play with Scharping pulling, Tunsil and Howard are double teaming Derrick Brown. Tunsil's job is to give Howard some help (which he does) and then block Carter (4). Tunsil looks at Carter, but is too slow in getting off Brown and goes to block Thompson instead. This leaves Phillip Lindsay out to dry, with nowhere to go.

The offensive line is underperforming their expectations and when a group of poor athletes who are supposed to be physical maulers, are not being physical maulers, I'm not super confident in their mentality suddenly changing in a fairly lost season.

To be fair, the Texans have played some pretty vaunted defenses so far. The Bills have the top ranked overall defense and second ranked rush defense by DVOA. The Panthers have the fourth and eight, the Browns the third and first and for as bad as the Jaguars are, they even have the 14th ranked rush defense by DVOA. Therefore, the Texans should be getting some positive regression in their favor, starting this week vs the Patriots who have the 29th ranked rush defense by DVOA.

What should also help is continuing to gain more chemistry and continuity with each other. This is a group that hasn't spent a lot of time next to each other, with Howard switching sides and positions, Scharping switching sides and two new starters in Britt and Cannon (who's now injured so Heck might play).

In addition, fundamentally, pad level has been an issue, so has hand placement and if I can point that out, I'm sure James Campen already has. I'm not here to provide excuses or a confident proposal in substantial future improvement though. At the end of the day, the coaches can only do so much, the players need to improve their teamwork, fundamentals and execution within the game.

Apart from the offensive line, the other aspects of the Texans' ground game have been failing to execute as well. The tight ends have been struggling to sustain their blocks and are having an adverse impact than intended. Kelly has run 12 (1RB, 2TE) personnel 31% of the time (T-4th) and 13 (1RB, 3 TE) personnel 12% of the time (T-2nd) in hopes of adding an extra blocker or two to help the struggling linemen.

Despite their heavy reliance, Pharaoh Brown, Jordan Akins and Antony Auclair have all underwhelmed as blockers. Akins has always been absolutely horrible throughout his career and new TE coach Andy Bischoff hasn't changed much. Akins (88) whiffing on Jerry Hughes (55) here leading to a run for no gain.

Even Brown, our best blocking tight end last year, has been wildly inconsistent. He's struggled to assert his size and physicality just like the line, and his issues blocking the correct defender in space show up here.

The result of minimal rushing lanes has turned the NFL's fourth highest paid backfield - once a bunch of productive veteran running backs - into a shell of themselves. Mark Ingram has a career-low YPC at 3.3 (next lowest is 3.9 as a rookie) and Phillip Lindsay is last in the NFL with a career-low YPC himself, sitting at a paltry 1.3.

The majority of the blame falls on the horrible blocking, but the RBs have not helped their cause either. Ingram has been phenomenal at fighting through contact and falling forward for extra yards, but the other backs on the roster aren't built for that play-style.

Lindsay, Johnson and Burkhead are scat backs who rely on their athleticism to make defenders miss, but this year, they aren't making defenders miss. Lindsay has been the main culprit, on 24 attempts he's failed to register a single missed/broken tackle, per Sports Info Solutions.

Burkhead has been quite bad as a runner as well (not even mentioning his pass protection issues). This play is one of our better blocked ones and he's given a 1on1 in the alley with tons of space, but can't make the safety miss.

It's plays like these which make me infuriated that sophomore gem RB Scottie Phillips has been a weekly healthy scratch behind underperforming veterans. Maybe he could help bring a healthy, peanut-butter like boost to the RB room.

Getting back on track, the Texans running game sucks, it pains me to write that, but it's the truth. Tim Kelly has been an easy scapegoat for our struggles but what do you want him to do?

He doesn't have Deshaun Watson anymore. He can't air it out with Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks who he schemed open deep last year. He's adjusted his game plan to his personnel, the personnel that Nick Caserio gave him. This team, on paper, is built to run the ball and use screen passes and the quick game as an extension of the run game. Kelly has done exactly that, but the identity of this team - the run game - is bad at being who they are supposed to be.

Players need to be held accountable too and the lack of execution is the main reason why the Texans are on pace to have the league-worst run offense for the second year in a row.