The last few years have been very interesting for the Houston Texans franchise, with the team often coming up just short of expectations by missing the playoffs despite its talent level. However, this season has been the contrary with the Texans officially wrapping up not only a spot in the playoffs but a division title to accompany it. Their first-ever AFC South title was clinched on an 80-yard drive in just over two-and-a half minutes on the road against one of the better defenses in the NFL with a third-string, rookie fifth-round pick at quarterback.

How’s that for living up to expectations?

T.J. Yates threw a game winning touchdown to slanting wide receiver Kevin Walter with two seconds left, and history was made.

Before the snap, the Texans broke the huddle in 11 personnel, which is a single running back in the backfield and a single tight end. However, the Houston quarterback sent Arian Foster out to his left in motion, creating an empty backfield and a three by two set of pass catchers.

Defensively, the Bengals showed blitz out of a 30 nickel package pre-snap. The number ’30′ implies that there are three down linemen along with  ’nickel’ stating there are five defensive backs.

The Texans motion out Foster left creating a 3x2 set formation.

An overhead shot and diagram shows the Texans’ offensive intentions after the snap. On the weak side — the side with the least amount of receiving threats — at the top of the screen shows that the two pass catchers are going to run two routes that serve as ‘clearouts’, which are run to occupy the attention of the defenders and free up another area of the field for an opposite pass catcher to attack.

On the strong side, the bottom of the screen that has three pass catchers to one side, the slot receiver and tight end are to run out routes while the receiver at the bottom of the screen, Kevin Walter, runs a slant route that breaks inside to the middle of the field — an area that the Bengals had struggled with throughout the game.

Diagramming the Texans intentions on offense.

Defensively, the Bengals had plans of their own. They intended to drop eight guys in coverage, including the linebacker standing at the line of scrimmage showing blitz. The linebacker at the line of scrimmage would drop off in coverage and help ‘bracket’, also known as double cover, Houston tight end Owen Daniels (81), who was having a banner day with seven receptions for 100 yards, inside and out. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer  expected Daniels to be the main target on the play and told his players so before the snap.

Bengals defenders prepare to drop to their landmarks.

However, because of all of the attention focused on Daniels, outside receiver Kevin Walker (83) went unaccounted for. After the game, Zimmer explained to the press, “We had eight guys trying to cover five guys. You can rush, play five one-on-ones and hope they don’t turn around and stick the ball in,” Zimmer said. “We actually overplayed 81 (Daniels) a little bit and the guy slipped in.”

Going through the key assignments, the cornerbacks at the top and bottom of the screen were expected to backpedal in coverage and cover their assigned receiver if he went vertical, as seen at the top of the image. If he didn’t, they would communicate to the rest of the secondary that the receiver would be going inside, which was the case at the bottom. Because of the communication, the linebacker dropping in the hole underneath should have peeled off his bracket coverage and took the slant route away by undercutting it.

Bengals defense suffers a communication breakdown costing them the game.

However, things didn’t transpire that way…

Walter catches the pass to win the game.

Albeit in dramatic fashion, the Texans persevered despite being without their star quarterback and wide receiver to win the division and clinch a playoff spot. Rick Dennison’s offense has been quality this year, led by a strong running game and a passing game that successfully stretches defenses horizontally before attacking them vertically. As evidenced in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, horizontal stretches with slants and out routes effectively attack defenses and create openings for receivers to catch the balls delivered from their rookie quarterback. Yates and the offense will have their hands full as we get closer to the playoffs, but as long as they continue to make plays like the one we saw with the game on the line in Cincinnati, they’ll have a chance to win games in January.