HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans were worst in the league in giving up sacks in 2018, and although the offensive line does need to improve, coach Bill O'Brien has been quick to point out the problem goes beyond that.
While offensive linemen are judged by the number of sacks allowed, NFL Next Gen Stats has a newer metric that helps measure how each individual lineman performed, called pass-block win rates.
The metric measures what percentage of the time a player has held a block for 2.5 seconds after the snap, which is the average time it takes a quarterback to get rid of the ball. Last season, center Nick Martin had the highest score relative to his position of the Texans linemen to play a significant number of snaps. Martin held his block for 2.5 seconds or longer 83 percent of the time. The league average for centers is 79 percent. Tackle Julien Davenport (82 percent) and guard Senio Kelemete (83 percent) finished higher than average for their positions. Rookie Martinas Rankin, who filled in for an injured Seantrel Henderson in 2018 and probably will primarily play guard going forward, had a pass-block win rate of 78 percent.
Outside of backup center/guard Greg Mancz, the offensive linemen were around the average for their position. As a team during the regular season, the Texans ranked 16th in pass-block win rate.
This doesn't mean there is no room for improvement for the offensive line -- it was certainly still an area of weakness -- but it shows there might be another reason that quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked 62 times in 2018. Watson's average time to throw last season was 3.01 seconds, which ranked third worst among passer rating qualified passers. This shows that at least part of the time, the reason Watson is under pressure is because he's holding on to the ball for too long.
Of course, one of the reasons Watson has had so much success -- throwing 45 touchdown passes in 23 career games -- is because by holding on to the ball and extending plays, he can also make some incredible things happen, especially after a play has broken down.
"Sometimes, I could get rid of the ball. I guess it depends on the situation," Watson said. "But I tell everyone, and OB [O'Brien] tells everyone, too: As long as I'm in the game and I have the ball in my hands, the play is never over until it's over.
"I mean, there are times where you can say I held it on and you can say the ball could have got out quicker [or] you could say if I would have got out of that sack and made a play, then he didn't hold the ball too long. So I guess it depends on what the results are."
There are other reasons why Watson might be holding on to the ball: He needs more time for his receivers to get open or is waiting to target the speedy Will Fuller deep downfield. At the NFL owners meetings this spring, O'Brien called Watson "an excellent deep-ball thrower," saying he has a "great feel" for that part of the game. But O'Brien has also acknowledged it is important to keep his star quarterback from taking unnecessary hits.
"We can help that with teaching him a few things, getting him to another level of his defensive knowledge, and then with us, schematically, protection-wise, route-wise, having an ability to scheme some things up that can help him," O'Brien said. "Then, having everybody out there. Hop [DeAndre Hopkins], obviously, Will Fuller and Keke Coutee, that helps, too. That helps stretch the field at different levels."
The Texans didn't have much depth at receiver last season. Hopkins was an excellent and consistent target for Watson, but with Fuller (torn ACL) and Coutee (hamstrings) missing significant time in 2018, Watson often had only the All-Pro receiver on whom to rely.
Still, O'Brien said "it's not just one guy" who can fix the pressure on Watson.
"Everybody has to take part in all parts of the offense," O'Brien said. "It's not just one guy. Maybe it's, obviously, the blocking at times can be better, the route-running can be better, maybe get the ball out a little bit quicker at times. But everybody -- it's an 11-man process. It's not just one guy.
"Everybody's involved in that. That's why offense is very much a unit that has to be choreographed during practice, everybody working together and building up to the game and then making sure that you're on the same page in the games."