How the Broncos Win: Stopping Texans' Vertical Game With WR Will Fuller V
A late-preseason trade with the Miami Dolphins for wide receiver Kenny Stills gave the Houston Texans one of the best wide receiver rooms in the entire league, allowing QB Deshaun Watson to pick and choose which one he’d decimate defenses with week after week.
Stills has been a solid No. 3 wide receiver for the Texans, while standout DeAndre Hopkins – arguably the best receiver in football – is always going to get his. The main benefactor in the Stills trade outside of Watson has been Will Fuller V though.
A fourth-year receiver out of Notre Dame, Fuller is the perfect piece for the Texans with his homerun ability over the top, as well as his game-breaking ability after the catch with his speed and vision.
With the Texans’ wide receiver room, you really have to pick your poison as a defense. Oftentimes, teams have to live with Hopkins getting his 5-plus catches and 60-plus yards, but what really hurts is when Fuller gets going, taking the top off of a defense and striking quickly for the Texans.
For the Denver Broncos to have a chance on Sunday, they can’t let Fuller, who is questionable with a hamstring injury, slip behind the secondary for explosive plays, allowing the Texans to matriculate the football down the field at lightning speed.
It might seem silly to say this in writing, but I truly believe it: containing Fuller is the key to bottling up the Texans’ offense. Taking away the deep shots forces the Texans to play the dink-and-dunk game, something they’re not really built for.
That’s easier said than done though with Fuller, as the film reveals.
Underrated Route Running
Fuller has been labeled, and fairly so, as a deep threat and not much more.
However, the tape simply doesn’t lie with Fuller. He’s very good with his attention to detail within his routes, which allows him to win with regularity.
Here against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6, Fuller crosses up Kendall Fuller on this slant route. A lot of it has to do with his release, which is clean and quick. Watch him chop his feet at the top of his stem, allowing him to rock Fuller to sleep before exploding inside on the slant for the quick catch and run.
If you watch Fuller’s feet, he’s back on his heels and loses his balance. That’s what Fuller can do with his releases and his footwork.
Aside from his releases and footwork, Fuller’s attention to detail within his routes is outstanding. He’s really good with timing in his routes, knowing exactly when to get into and out of his cuts, allowing him to work himself open quickly.
Here against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, Fuller runs a corner route out of the slot. By selling the vertical route, you can see the safety over the top flip his hips inside anticipating the go route.
Thanks to Fuller’s reputation and speed, he’s able to get the safety to flip his hips, making it an easy corner route to win on because the safety has to turn all the way around. By the time he does that, it’s an explosive-play catch for Fuller on the right sideline.
A similar thing happens here with Fuller, leading to a touchdown.
Once again, Fuller’s ability to sell the vertical route confuses Atlanta’s safety tandem. Selling the vertical route well makes it easier to pull off the Yankee concept with Hopkins, leading to a wide-open touchdown for the Notre Dame product.
Fuller turned Atlanta’s safeties around quite a bit in this game.
While Fuller is a homerun threat due to his ability to take the top off of defenses, that speed also plays a major factor on short catches, allowing him to separate from defenders and rip off long runs.
Out routes out of the slot for Fuller is money.
Sure, he has a tendency to route off his out routes, allowing defensive backs to recover quickly at times, but his timing with Watson on these types of routes are superb. That timing factors in here, leading to a long catch-and-run against the Falcons in Week 5, setting the Texans up for another early score.
All that green grass in front of Fuller with the football is terrifying.
Extending the Play
When the out routes are covered well, Fuller has the wherewithal to extend the play and turn it up the field.
He can feel the defender on his hip and knows there really shouldn’t be anything else over the top on this play. The protection holds up well for Watson, allowing him to turn his route up the field, leading to a 44-yard touchdown, capping his 14-catch, 217-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Falcons.
How the Broncos Win
Stopping Fuller is no easy task. Chris Harris, Jr. will undoubtedly shadow Hopkins all over the field, while Isaac Yiadom and Davontae Harris will probably trade off coverage on Stills throughout Sunday’s game.
Fuller will likely see a lot of work in the slot in hopes of a mismatch. That’s where Duke Dawson and Kareem Jackson will have to step up.
Jackson should be familiar with Fuller’s skillset, considering he played three years with the receiver in Houston.
Taking away the deep ball on Fuller will force him to win with his detail and explosiveness in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Doing that will force the Texans to play dink-and-dunk, which can get them into trouble at times, hopefully helping Denver’s defense out in the process.