Perhaps his performance thusfar has been a little less than desired throughout the 2009 Pre-season and in game 1 against the Jets, but last season, Steve Slaton was an incredible surprise for the Houston Texans. Not only did he bring some excitement to the Offensive backfield as he racked up enough Yards from Scrimmage to top the rest of the players in the AFC, but he also brought and still brings to the table a huge boost to the Texan's passing game. Despite his slow start in 2009, the type of season the 2008 Rookie had was far from a fluke and believe it or not, he is still a valued member of the Houston Texans Offense - not just as a runner, but also in the passing game.
Without Slaton, last year's passing game may not have been near as successful as it was and should be on to the future. Slaton's impact was clearly evident in game 1 against the Jets as his out-of-character 17 yard performance was one of the main reasons the passing game was grounded too.
Some may wonder how a running back can have such an impact on the passing game? The answer lies in him being a "distraction" of sorts.
When a runner like Slaton has proven game after game that he can pound out over 4 yards a carry and have the ability to blow past the first layer of defense and into the linebackers and secondary, Defenses have to start accounting for their abilities and plan their defensive scheme accordingly.
Enter the Play-Action Pass.
In most defenses, Safeties provide impactful run support from the secondary. They key on the linemen and the running backs as soon as the ball snaps. They read what they do and if a play looks to be a run, in most cases, they blast toward the running back to help make a stop as early as possible or to plug up the cut-back lanes. With less talented runners, the safeties can relax more and sit back reading the play a little longer before committing to run defense. Guys like Ahman Green and Ron Dayne just didn't have the quick burst of speed and pure "bowling ball" power to break past the line into the secondary. Slaton does, so the Safeties have to react quickly.
This is where the Play-Action pass makes Slaton so valuable. Because defenses are already compensating for Slaton's abilities as a runner, when Matt Schaub fakes the hand off and the Offensive Line shows a run-blocking scheme, Safeties often "Bite" or make a quick decision to come up to support the run. By the time they realize it's a pass and turn their head to get back into pass coverage, the ball is already headed for Andre Johnson down-field in single coverage or not covered at all.
The main key to success in this type of play is fooling the Safeties who, if in Zone, on normal pass plays can drop back into coverage without worry of a Slaton 10 yard gain and help double team receivers who run deep routes.
The Texans are fortunate to mix in Owen Daniels, a speedy Tight End with great hands, to the equation making the Play-Action even more dangerous. If the Linebackers fall for the run too and the Daniels is dragging across the field, he's often left wide open as a second option behind an Andre Johnson deep-ball. If the safety doesn't bite and drops back to help out on Johnson, but the line-backers come up for run support....Owen Daniels could be gaining a quick 10-15 yards or more. It's the best play in the arsenal when you have a back like Slaton.
On top of both of those options, Slaton himself becomes an excellent receiving option if Schaub is feeling the pressure and needs to dump the ball off. Because of Slaton's speed and power, he can turn a 2 yard pass into 8-10 yards with ease.
Unfortunately though, any play can be stopped if the defense is running the right set-up.
That's why the Jets were able to shut the Texans down. The 3-4 Defensive Scheme that Rex Ryan's Jets run is a tough cookie to crack and has the ability to blitz players from all different directions. When executed as well as it was against the Texans in Week 1, it can take the Running Back out of the game, which really limits the Play Action Pass. The Texans were relying so heavily on the run and Play Action, but were never able to get it off the ground because of the Jets D.
Luckily for the Texans, all is not lost as they can easily adjust both the running game and the Play Action the next time they have to face a 3-4 like the Jets.
Steve Slaton has a bright future with Kubiak's offense, he is just off to a slow start. It happens to most players in their second season. Expect Slaton to pick it up this week against the Titans who he was able to run all over last year. He brings a massive amount to the Play Action pass and adds a tremendous scoring force to our offense.
Although it will be a tough match-up against the Tennessee Titans, It should all come together this week for the Texans and we should see the team that we were expecting to see last week.