Some would say the hype on Dameon Pierce got "out of control" after his preseason performance. Then week one of the 2022 NFL season arrived and expectations seemingly came crashing down. Is there a real reason to panic and bail on him?
The Game Data
Per Pro Football Reference, there was an ~70-30 split in snaps favoring veteran Rex Burkhead in week 1. While Burkhead also out-carried Pierce 14 - 11, Pierce had a higher percentage of carries per snap played and they were roughly even in efficiency per standard yards per carry metrics.
Regarding RBV metrics, Pierce was the better runner with an overall ASR score of 75 to 57.1%. Looking at the early indicators of what Houston would like to do on the ground, it seems they are a Gap-focused team heavily leveraging Power and Counter wrinkles. Burkhead and Pierce both did well in Gap slightly favoring Burkhead 83.3 to 80. They split Power and Counter success where Pierce performed better in Counter (125 to 12.5) and Burkhead had the edge in Power (60 to 12.5).
Week One Tape Review
Encouraging Plays by Pierce
If you are a seasoned dynasty player or you have followed the NFL for a while, then you must recognize that old-school coaches like Lovie Smith slow-roll their rookies' involvement. Lovie Smith admitted they planned for Pierce to get more carries, but the game flow went a different direction. He also said, "you learn from mistakes like that."
Even still, we should look at the tape to see if there was anything Pierce did to work his way off the field. After a review of the tape, there were no glaring errors in reads or play speed. As a matter of fact, there are some positives we should examine.
Adjusting to Trench Dynamics
Quick decision-making is a necessity with running back play, but to complicate things, sometimes rushers need to make counterintuitive decisions. In the above clip, Pierce is meant to hit the play-side B-gap, but the tight end is unable to stand his ground. Pierce anticipates the flow of this block will end up in his desired path and adjusts. Despite the initial read of the running lane being inside the tight end's leverage, he cuts against leverage, under control, and bursts upfield. Pierce then finishes with good pad level for a 4-5 yard gain. If he is a fraction slower in decision-making, this would be a tackle for loss or no gain.
Pierce continues to see the field well and process the information quickly. The design was likely meant to work the "B" gap behind the right tackle. Unfortunately, the block by the tight end had a neutral leverage look as soon as the ball is in Pierce's belly. A wide vision allows Pierce to find better leverage on the left side of the line. The one thing we could nitpick here is that if he could have pressed his original track for two short steps to suck the linebacker into the chaos, he might still be running. He has demonstrated that type of patience in college and the preseason, so we should be confident that it will come back.
The Texans need to trust and take a chance on Pierce, but they also need to be patient and let him grow in the offense. This should be the same approach for fantasy managers who bought into the hype, or even believed from the beginning. We should expect Houston to continue utilizing Rex Burkhead in the passing game as that is his specialty. Burkhead is the only person in the way, and we should fully expect Pierce's touches to grow. The Texans are an uninspiring offense currently, but Pierce could be the spark they desperately need.