Houston Texans All 22: Andre Johnson Opens Up Room for Kevin Walter
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
They love everything he brings to the table in terms of blocking, route running and hands.
The rest of the NFL isn't nearly as impressed.
Walter is off to a strong start in 2012. Through seven games, he's on pace for a 43-reception, five-touchdown, 637-yard season.
In terms of yardage and scores, those would be his best numbers since his breakout 2008 campaign.
After years of consistent decline, has Walter found a fountain of youth?
A look at the tape suggests the veteran wideout is benefiting from opposing defenses' obsession with stopping Andre Johnson.
Teams believe they can take Walter away with man coverage, allowing them to roll resources toward the more accomplished Johnson.
As long as everyone does their job, that plan works well. Walter has had five games in which he was largely invisible.
A look at the tape against the Ravens shows just how much he benefits both from the scheme and from the attention teams give his teammates.
1st Quarter, 1st-and-10 at Houston 22, Matt Schaub to Walter for Eight Yards
On this short gain, we see what skills Walter possesses. It's a play action fake to the left with a bootleg by Schaub back to the right.
The Ravens have a safety on the right to shadow Johnson, but bring the second safety down closer to the line of scrimmage. He immediately bites on the play action (purple arrow).
The corner gives Walter a wide berth, and he runs a slant to about the 28-yard line. At the precise moment Schaub begins to boot (green star), Walter mirrors his movements cutting hard to the sideline.
The corner jumped inside once he saw Walter stop, and that gives the wideout the advantage.
Schaub hits Walter perfectly on the sideline. He taps his feet and heads out of bounds with a good gain on first down.
This is what he does well. He doesn't have the skills to win one-on-one matchups regularly, so the Texans take advantage of his experience and precision to craft effective plays.
1st Quarter, 1st-and-10 at Baltimore 25, Schaub to Walter for 25 Yards, Touchdown
After just missing Walter on a deep pass a few plays earlier, Schaub finds him for a score.
On this play, Walter lines up in the slot. It's not possible to identify the outside receiver to the left.
The Baltimore defenders are playing a zone.
Both defenders are so worried about the outside receiver that the deep back steps forward to double the outside receiver breaking for the sidelines.
The corner playing Walter rightly leaves him to cover his zone, but that leaves no one on the veteran.
The blown coverage leads to an easy touchdown once Schaub is forced to check down to his second read.
No one is paying any attention to Walter, and the safety over the top is too concerned with Johnson on the right side to get over to Walter.
This is typical coverage for Walter. He almost never faces anything but single or zone coverage and if there is any assignment mix up, he'll be the beneficiary as he's viewed as the least threatening player on the offense.
3rd Quarter, 2nd-and-12 at Houston 31, Schaub hits Walter for 34 Yards
Again, we see Walter get single coverage while all the defenders are sucked inside to worry about Johnson lined up in the slot.
Due to an injury to Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith is lined up over Walter. Despite having wretched metrics for the year, the Ravens still put a suspect corner in single, man coverage on Walter.
He runs a simple stop and go and beats Smith deep. He had tried a similar trick in the first half just before the touchdown catch, but lacked the speed to catch up to Schaub's ball.
This time he slides underneath for a diving grab.
When Walter is productive, the Texans' offense becomes nearly unstoppable.
Opposing defenses simply cannot stop the run and defend Johnson and Owen Daniels and Walter. They put their worst players on Walter and take their chances.
Walter is savvy enough to take advantage of blown coverages and reliable enough to be in the right place and make the catch when he's supposed to.
The long-term question for Houston is whether that will be enough against superior defenses or when coming from behind.
One thing is sure—when the time comes, Walter will be exactly where Schaub expects him to be.
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