AFC South: Owen Daniel

Leach catch a big key to Texans' win

December, 8, 2008
12/08/08
7:35
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Last week, Megan Manfull reported that Vonta Leach had made himself a makeshift T-shirt soliciting Pro Bowl votes. The Texans had shirts made up touting some of their more high profile players, and as Leach is also on the ballot, he thought he'd jump into the action.

He's a solid player who's played a role in Steve Slaton's breakout season, but in a division with three starting fullbacks, I'd rank him third. Jacksonville's Greg Jones is a quality blocker with a runner's sense of a play and Tennessee's Ahmard Hall is a bone-crusher who's also done some good work with the ball in his hands.

I'm sure Leach was being playful, but transcripts of interviews from Houston last week read like reporters were very serious in discussing him as a Pro Bowl candidate.

Never mind the trip to Hawaii, let's talk about his trip back to Green Bay. He was with the Packers in 2004 and 2005, and a game in 2006 before he was let go and landed in Houston after a short stop in New Orleans.

Leach was a crucial piece in the Texans big win in Green Bay on Sunday. A team with Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels twice looked to the fullback in big moments and got big gains.

He finished with three receptions for 48 yards.

The first was a five-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.

The second was a nice 21-yard gain that got a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on during a third-quarter field goal drive that put Houston ahead 13-7.

The third was at the start of the game's final drive, when the Texans were pinned deep in their own territory contemplating playing for overtime.

"That is about as bad a situation as you can be in," Gary Kubiak said of taking possession with 1:49 remaining at the Texans' own three-yard line. "They had two timeouts, you have to get the ball out of your own end zone and you are probably thinking, 'How do I get to overtime.' So we said, 'Let's pound it out a couple of yards, let's take a shot with Andre on the second play.'

"But we didn't get the coverage that we wanted. Matt (Schaub) dumped the ball to Vonta and he makes the best catch that I have ever seen him make. Now all of a sudden we go from being non-aggressive and trying to get to overtime, to being aggressive and trying to win the game."

Said Schaub of Leach's last-drive catch: "It was a great play. We had a play action pass and we had Andre deep and they covered him, so I had Vonta. I wasn't expecting to get him open because they play man coverage, and he happened to slip out to the flat. I just tried to put it on him, but it kind of took off on me a little bit. He was able to get one hand on it and pulled it in. The freight train, 'The Coke machine' we call him, turned down that sideline and ran a few guys over. That was the play of the game in my opinion, because it gave us the opportunity to go on that two-minute drive to get that field goal."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

The run-blocking scheme is new, and the Houston Texans need to work on it.

The run-blocking scheme involves a lot of cut blocking that topples defensive linemen. So, how exactly do they do that without risking injuring their own players?

After all, they're not going to ask Duane Brown to cut Mario Williams in practice.

"Obviously we can't do that to our own players on a daily basis. That would be a recipe for bad things," offensive line coach John Benton said. "We try to get the angles down. We have a lot of coaching points we use to get us in position to do it when it is live and it's time to go."

"It is an absolute unknown until you get into games and are able to do it. Who's going to do it well? Who's not going to do well? Of course you have a feeling, 'this guy's a good athlete, this guy can get it done.' But you are surprised occasionally. It makes the preseason very important."

Guard Chester Pitts said it's actually not difficult in practice to assess whether a lineman would have been able to successfully cut an opponent.

"If I can get my head in front and I can wrap him up around his waist, I can cut him," said Pitts, an original member of the Texans. "So that's what we do, that's how we take care of our guys. I shoot my head the same, and I just wrap him up around his waist. Once I wrap him up he basically stops and that signifies that we cut."

ESPN's Mark Schlereth demonstrates the blocking technique in the following video.

The Texans won't likely tick off the Denver Broncos in the preseason opener, since the scheme assistant coach Alex Gibbs, essentially the run game coordinator, brought to Houston was the same one he installed and ran in Denver years ago.

But New Orleans, Dallas and Tampa Bay may not be very happy that their top defensive linemen are susceptible to cut blocks in the preseason.

Never mind the technicalities of the legalities. Mention a cut block to most defensive linemen and they bristle. The general thinking seems to be: if they have to cut me to beat me, they couldn't block me man-up.

A quick sampling I got from defensive linemen over the last few days on the general subject of cut-blocking.

Albert Haynesworth, Titans defensive tackle: "They always talk about us being dirty, maybe they need to look at that, trying to hurt people and stuff. If they aren't man enough to stay up, shoot, they shouldn't be in the league then. The coach, either."

Williams, Texans defensive end: "It's more of a man-up to me. Personally, I don't like cut blocking. I'd rather they just hit people in the mouth. It's just a different type of thing people are going to have to deal with."

Tony Brown, Titans defensive tackle: "I dislike it. I feel like that's the offensive lineman's cheap way out of it. We're all out there trying to fight and compete. If you want to be a man about it, try to block someone one-on-one, don't cut him. We're not going to like it, but at the same time that's what they are being coached to do. So we know they are not trying to be personal about it. That's their scheme. It's up to us as a defensive line to keep them from doing us like that. What you want to do is make sure you get your hands on them as much as you can, because if you come off the ball and don't have any hands, they're going to go at your feet quicker than you imagine. One mistake from you, you know you're going to be down, and there goes the ball cut into your gap."

Both Pitts and tight end Owen Daniels emphasized the right way to cut block and said their intention is to look players in the eye as the beat them to a spot, then take them down from in front. They understand why defensive linemen are so fearful of getting cut on their back leg.

Said Pitts: "It's all in how you cut someone. If you make eye contact, if your head is in front, then it's a legitimate cut. If you do something cheap, if you take the back of a guy's legs out, that's not nearly as cool. I don't operate that way. I don't do things like that."

Said Daniels: "Say you beat me across the face and then I am cutting your back leg. I don't know if that's a penalty, but that's definitely something guys will get more mad about. I feel like you shouldn't complain if I've got you beat anyway. I've got you cut off, this is what I am doing to get you out of the play, I'm putting you on the ground."

There is also a mind-game element in Gibbs' method.

"I think it just makes guys more tentative, makes guys a little softer," Daniels said. "If they are getting cut they are going to back up a little bit when they think they are going to get cut again. And maybe that's not what we're doing this time."

Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is ready already for the complaints.

"I don't care about what the other guys think," he said. "I'd tell them to shut up and deal with it. With that new system, it's going to work well for our running game."

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