Two not always big-time men who could big-time step up their game under Wade Phillips. Big-time.
Part I: Secondary (also includes a brief description of this series).
Part II: Linebackers.
I'd like to thank the Academy for giving me this award, my mom and dad for making me in the back of a '65 Chevelle, and ProFootballFocus for providing me the stats and allowing me to present them here. Hit the jump.
Not unlike our time with the linebackers, there are going to be many changes to our defensive line in 2011. After all, there's a new sheriff in town, and not only is he packing a case of Zebra Cakes, he's actually got an idea on how to create a defense that doesn't rival the Maginot Line (too soon?).
Mario Williams was hardly dominant last year as he struggled with a hernia all season. Mario seems to have an injury every year that's detrimental to his play (foot, shoulder, etc.), though he should still be counted as a well-above average DE, a verdict in which PFF agrees. But Mario seems to have stagnated as a player in that his pass rush has failed to evolve, though he has improved against the run.
Still, I can't help but think that, if our defense has failed one player, it's Mario. We have consistently failed to put Mario in a position to succeed, relying on players such as Anthony Maddox, Jeff Zgonina, and The Corpse Formerly Known as Anthony Weaver beside him. It took a couple of years to bring in a DE book-end that wasn't embarrassing, and Antonio Smith is....something.
As of now, and against MDC's wishes, Wade is openly talking about putting Mario at DE in the Bruce Smith role. Either at OLB or DE, I'm intrigued, and I can see it working out well in either scenario. I must say that putting another true pass rusher off Mario's outside shoulder is especially intriguing to me.
Antonio Smith remains Antonio Smith, a player who can be incredibly disruptive on one play and make a stupid mistake the next. Smith's eight net penalties was tied for second in the league among 4-3 DEs, but his production was nowhere near the other two on that level, Trent Cole and Jason Babin (who still sucks, for the record). In yet another display of his wide-ranging play, Smith was 8th in the league for DEs with 43 QB pressures, but he was second in missed tackles with seven...out of only 22 tackles as a whole. That's downright pathetic. Overall, Smith is ranked #39, but the entirety of his value is as a pass rusher - he hurts you against the run and with the penalties - and with only three sacks, he needs to step up. The talent, at least, seems to be there.
Mark Anderson was a fantastic mid-season signing by Rick Smith, and in a third of Smith's snaps, Anderson picked up four sacks. In my opinion, there's absolutely no way in which he fits as an OLB, so Wade's opinion of Anderson at DE will decide the latter's fate with the team.
Another player who had a positive impact at the end of the season was Tim Jamison. In just 221 snaps, he had a sack and eight QB pressures, which would be 34 with the same number of snaps as Smith. That is not shabby in the least, and I hope we'll give him a good look for 2011.
Jesse Nading and Adewale Ogunleye also both received a number of snaps at DE, but their play was less than inspiring...unless you were inspired to chug more bleach, which WOULD make their play inspiring, I guess.
Speaking of bleach, on to the defensive tackles! You may want a crying hanky handy. Your top DT/NT, as ranked by PFF, was Shaun Cody. At #42. Yikes. Most of Cody's value is because he didn't commit a single penalty in 2010 (PFF awards not screwing up), but he's below average both in rushing the QB and in stopping the run. When you're the NT, stopping the run is a pretty important aspect of your job description.
Earl Mitchell comes in at #48, but he's almost exactly like Cody in that he wasn't penalized, but it's off-set with his poor play against the run. In over 300 snaps, he did have a sack and nine QB pressures, so there's some hope for his pass rush.
Where, you are asking yourself, is Amobi Okoye? At #59. Unlike Mitchell and Cody, Okoye committed six penalties. Like them, he's flat out poor against the run, ranking 69 out of 77 (oddly apropos considering how much he sucks against the run). For the last time: The last thing Okoye is or should be considered is a run-stuffing DT. Continuing to say this makes you obviously oblivious to all fact.
Rushing the passer, though, is where Okoye excels, ranking 19th overall. Okoye was 13th in QB pressures and tied for 3rd for QB hits with nine. If put into the proper role, primarily as a gap-shooting Land-to-QB missile, we could have a fearsome tool with Okoye. I consider Okoye example #85 of how poorly our personnel has been used by Richard Smith and Frank Bush.
The only other DT to receive significant snaps was Damione Lewis, who, from a production point of view, is a far better run stopper than anyone else on the roster. Quite frankly, he was the best NT on the roster last year for that purpose, but that's like being the prettiest girl in Oklahoma.
2011: So much is up in the air for next year with this group. If Mario and Smith become your starting DEs, a backup rotation of Anderson, Mitchell, and Jamison would be effective...if this is where they fit. Spending an early pick on a DE does not seem to be a need, though upgrading Smith is necessary at some point.
Putting Okoye at NT, if, again, his PRIMARY responsibility is shooting an A-gap, could result in a beast because he is just that good in creating pressure, though he's just that poor against the run. Even for me, this might squelch a degree of the sense of urgency to draft a NT early, and if we do, we'd better grab a difference-maker.
Overall, and as I've said throughout this series, a change in scheme will have the greatest impact. The Texans have done a fantastic job trying to crush square pegs into round holes, and with any degree of competence, Wade Phillips will be able to stop that grand tradition.