2009 in Review: The Secondary

Hit the jump if you're familiar with the series because the next couple of lines are review.

I'm going to look at every player who played more than 100 snaps for the Texans from a number of different angles.  I'll give their regular statistics from this year and last year.  Similarly, I will bring in Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders numbers for the last two years and compare them.  A glossary of FO terms can be found here, and Pro Football Focus operates on a strict +/- system.  Finally, I'll give my impressions on each of them as someone who has spent probably 100 hours each year watching the game tapes and filling in charting numbers for FO.  For players with less than 100 snaps, I'll just give a brief summary.  From this, I hope to give a balanced reading of each player's ability and relative value to the team.

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There's not much to glean from the stats versus the number one and two wide receivers.  All of the Texans cornerbacks seem to have played roughly below average the last two seasons--at least on the surface.  The Texans improved drastically on passes in three-wide sets, which I think can be explained by the phrase "not employing DeMarcus Faggins".  Tight ends were a major problem.  Eugene Wilson not playing some of the season and DeMeco Ryans trying to cover Vernon Davis on go-routes would rank among my main culprits for that one.  The one thing Frank Bush deserves an awful lot of credit for this year was that everyone up front sniffed out screens impeccably.  In fact, the only screens that really were successful against the Texans were quick hitches at Dunta Robinson.  Speaking of Pay Me (P)Rick...

CORNERBACKS

Dunta Robinson

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It wasn't so much that Dunta Robinson was bad this year, it's that he really could've easily been worse.  I went over my concerns more in-depth in TexanDC's fanpost, but to summarize, Dunta was dead to rights by any number of wide outs beating him deep in 2009 and was extraordinarily lucky that he wasn't burnt more often than he was.  Add to that a real shying away from contact, the huge pass he gave up in the second Indy game when he started crowing and preening himself while Peyton Manning quick-snapped the Texans, and the fact that he's not really all that great in the short passing game either.  Mix with a side-dish of management critique on your own shoe, enough yellow nylon to weave himself another dreadlock, and missing training camp, and you've got yourself one easy-to-hate player.

Much like Anthony Weaver before him, Dunta Robinson has entered the phase of his career where he doesn't do what he's supposed to anymore.  He hasn't been the same player since his injury, he looks unsure at times, and his productivity is way down.  Unlike Weaver, the Texans aren't anchored to a contract where cutting him would do more harm than good to the team.  Whether Rick Smith and Company can look past it all and see that Dunta isn't worth half of his salary this year is one of the crucial questions facing the Texans this offseason.  If Robinson is back as number one cornerback, it's a good sign that the Texans are either satisfied with 8-8 or are basing their decision purely on reputation.  I'm hoping they just let him go.

Glover Quin

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Another opinion I've already slightly stepped on earlier.  Quin probably will end up at safety one of these days, but for the now, the Texans aren't really giving up too much with him on the field.  Quin has terrific read-and-react instincts.  Throwing the quick curl route at him was pretty fruitless.  However, get his feet moving on a drag just past the line of scrimmage or a quick turn and he doesn't really have the speed to keep up.  He's easily the Texans' best tackling corner, and I'd be surprised if he didn't wind up with at least a few forced turnovers next year via the fumble or interceptions.

Long-term, Quin should be a key part of the Texans either at safety or corner as long as he can avoid Fred Bennett Syndrome.  I wouldn't get too caught up in moving him to safety in the near term.  Lets see how he does with a full offseason under contract.  Best case scenario:  He gets better reads on WR moves and keeps stride with them.  Worst case scenario:  He's a decent safety.

Jacques Reeves

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FO quotes his 2008 season as "good underneath, but easy to beat deep".  This season, it seemed to be almost the opposite.  He gave up quickly on some of the underneath stuff, but the only way he was getting beat deep would be if the throw was absolutely perfect, like Nate Hughes' catch in the second Jacksonville game.  Probably a bit of small sample size in there with this one, but possibly also some overcompensation by Reeves.  

Reeves was fairly serviceable in 2008, so the idea that he was sitting most of the season in favor of Dunta is really hard to take, particularly considering the Texans had so many close losses that could've been solved with just one extra defensive stop.  He's probably only a decent CB2, but that's better production than the club got out of Dunta last year.  With one of the highest price tags on the team and no salary cap rules to bend through, the Texans might be better off cutting him if they find a CB1 in the draft or on the free agent market.

Brice McCain

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McCain showed solid speed in his limited field time and is probably the best zone coverage guy the Texans have.  His problem going forward is that he could be too physically limited to be anything more than a cover guy.  -3.1 in run defense on dime snaps is ugly, and while he might get up to the nickel role, he could be a liability versus big wideouts.

Not bad for a sixth round pick, and he probably will reprise his role next year unless the Texans have a sudden change of heart on Fred Bennett or Antuwan Molden stays healthy for a whole month.  Just don't get your expectations too high for him.  He reminds me an awful lot of Tim Jennings.

Fred Bennett

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Most physically talented Texans cornerback?  Probably Fred Bennett.  If you asked me to pick one Texans CB to check Randy Moss or Reggie Wayne one-on-one, Bennett is my pick.  Unfortunately, due to his lack of focus, mental mistakes, and complete inability to play a decent zone, Bennett was so deep in Frank Bush's doghouse that he actually found diagrams for elaborate blitzes.

I look at Fred Bennett and I see a player with NFL talent that could be spotted in more ideal situations than he's had here (more man-to-man) and become more productive because of it.  He's probably not going to suddenly go back to what he was after everyone was declaring him the next Christ of cornerbacks after 2007, but I think there's a solid chance he winds up as a guy that bounces from team-to-team and plays a steady but unimpressive role on the edge.  The Walt Harris of the 2010's.  It probably won't be with the Texans.

(F*** it, I'm) Going Deep

Antwuan Molden - A rare high-round misfire by the Smithiak regime, Molden spent most of last year being hurt.  When he was healthy in 2008, he didn't exactly seize playing time away from anyone either.  His saving grace comes in two forms--he was terrific on special teams in 2008 and the non-starters ahead of him on the depth chart have their own warts.  This is the make-or-break year for him.

Mark Parson - He showed decent coverage skills in the little preseason action I caught of him.  Probably a rung higher than your average practice squad fodder.  Parson looks like someone who you could do worse than, which is a decent use of your squad spot.

SAFETIES

Bernard Pollard

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Pollard wasn't quite as good as he looked in coverage--his interceptions generally were fluky and his zone coverage was pretty limited as well.  Of course, that's not to say that he didn't have a huge impact on the defense by knocking the piss out of everyone he saw up front.  He wasn't quite DeMeco Ryans good, and he can take poor angles at times, but his contain and instincts were crucial in the Texans cutting down on the amount of successful edge runs against them.  He was also excellent at not biting on the play fake.

There is no denying that he changed the calculus this year, but I think he got a little too much credit for this.  I'm not denying he was very good for the Texans, I just think his effect on the defense was more of a tipping point than him being a dominant force of nature.  Think of the Texans defense on a seesaw: one side has Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, and DeMeco.  The other side had John Busing, Dunta, and Frank Bush's zone schemes.  When Busing stepped off the bad side and Pollard stepped on the good side, it tilted the Texans from a mediocre defense to a solid one.  When Eugene Wilson went down and Busing stepped back on, the defense went right back to mediocrity until Dominique Barber took snaps from Busing.  Just because Pollard was the one who tipped the scales doesn't mean he should be given extra credit.  It could have been any solid player, is all I'm saying.

Still one year removed from being dreadful for the Chiefs, I'm loathe to hand him a long-term extension for the reasons above.  I want to see last year's form repeated before I'm comfortable handing him a big deal, both due to the play for the Chiefs and the character concerns.  I'd slap the second round tender on him and give him a prove-it year.  

Eugene Wilson

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Wilson is clearly the best cover man on the Texans, and losing him down the stretch was a exploitable problem for the Texans as they went 0-3 against their AFC South brethren while Busing tried to find a spot 50 yards downfield where he wouldn't be a problem at.  Wilson played inspired football and I thought he more than justified his re-signing with his play, which is something I thought would be more of a problem this year after last year's Will Demps debacle (hey, I found a Pro Bowler just as undeserving as VY!)

On the other hand, he didn't stay healthy enough to keep Busing off the field in the first place.  He also has one of the highest cap figures on the 2010 Texans at $3,705,000 and cutting him to get out of the signing bonus push might be a decent move by a proactive front office if it thinks Dominique Barber can be an answer, especially since he's now pushing 30.  I expect the Texans to play it safe here after they spend their self-evaluation watching Busing highlights.

Dominique Barber

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Barber showed some decent intermediate coverage skills, particularly after the staff got tired of watching Busing get destroyed on a play-to-play basis.  He doesn't have the deep speed to catch up with someone running past him, and while his run defense isn't as bad as spelled out by PFF, he does go for the big hit way too much.  

To me, Barber is about what Shaun Cody was to the defensive line, except younger.  There are weaknesses, and he's probably not good enough to be an every week starter without being exposed.  Still, a fine backup safety and someone who has a place in the NFL.  He'll only be 24 next year though, so he still has some time to shake these labels.  He's definitely a better fit at free safety.

John Busing

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This was right up there with the ugliest seasons in Texans history.  Busing couldn't cover anybody, to the point where the Texans defensive scheme often featured him dropping back into Galveston on every play.  Busing also set out to turn poor run support into an art form.  While other Texans made mistakes in containment, Busing set the bar, tripped over it, then watched running backs go past him without even a customary Matt Stevens flailing of the arms.

Busing is purely a special teamer.  A special teamer with no value on defense as a backup is someone who doesn't often hold a job long.  Ergo, expect John Busing to surface in the UFL next year if he plays at all.  If he suits up again for the Texans defense, it's time to get a prescription for codeine. 

(F*** it, I'm) Going Deep

Nick Ferguson - Here is my chart for Nick Ferguson last year:

2008_08_11_toast_medium

Brian Russell - When people from other fanbases openly take pity on yours for signing someone, it might be a good idea to immediately release the player and pretend this never happened.  The scary part?  He outplayed John Busing.

Troy Nolan - Last year's 7th rounder, who went on IR during training camp.  It's a rare 7th rounder who can overcome spending the whole first year hurt.  Let's just say he's fighting "Lions in the Super Bowl" odds to be relevant again and leave it at that.

Bonus if you made it to the end: Would you like to see a Special Teams breakdown?  I can do it, I just don't want to put the effort into it if it's just going to be a 10 comment thread that consists of "Kris Brown sucks" repeated over and over again.

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