NFL Nation: Owen Daniel

Daniels' presence helps Johnson

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
4:02
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Texans tight end Owen Daniels is getting closer to a potential return.

Daniels
Johnson
Johnson
The Texans placed him on injured reserve Oct. 9 with the designation to return after he suffered a non-displaced fracture to his fibula. The first game in which he'd be eligible to play is the Texans' Thursday night game against the Jaguars on Dec. 5.

"When he initially started working out, had a little soreness, but he is doing better," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He did work pretty hard today. If he can come back or actually get on the practice field, would it be this week? I'm not sure, but he's real close. We'll see how things work out but he has improved over the course of the last week."

When they lost him, the Texans' losing streak was only at three games. It's now nine, and Daniels' absence hasn't helped.

With a potential return approaching, I wanted to examine exactly what he meant to the Texans' offense. John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Info looked up Matt Schaub's stats with and without Daniels on the field since 2009, when that sort of data started being collected. We went with just Schaub since Case Keenum and Daniels haven't played together.

Schaub's numbers were similar with and without Daniels, as were the Texans' overall yards per play and yards per rush.

So I asked Parolin to check out Andre Johnson's stats in those same games. Johnson averaged 81.7 yards per game with Schaub and Daniels, but just 44.4 yards per game with Schaub but without Daniels since 2009.

Without Daniels, the Texans' formations have changed significantly as well. In the five weeks with a healthy Daniels, the Texans led the NFL in snaps with two or more tight ends. Since losing him, they've used the formation much less, dropping to 27th.

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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