The blitz was something on an endangered species last season for the Houston Texans. Much ink was spilled going back and forth between the need to blitz more and the desire not to get a patchwork secondary smoked.
Defensive coordinator Richard Smith can't be afraid to call blitzes, even if they don't work the first time. If the Texans have to surrender one big play for a chance to make two, then do it. Playing defense the way the Texans need to, from start to finish, is a mindset that's nurtured during the week as part of hours and hours of preparation.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since then. The secondary has gotten deeper. The linebackers have gotten faster and the defensive line has gotten nastier. Mario Williams has set the world on fire. Amobi Okoye is building on his solid rookie season. Frank Okam could be a beast in the middle. And the secondary has improved too. Fred Bennett is no longer a rookie cornerback. He's a proven commodity that can make plays. This year, the Texans are joined by speedsters Antwaun Molden and Jacques Reeves. At some point, Dunta Robinson will return to the field.
So, who is going to hit Peyton Manning? My guess--the linebackers. No one has come out and openly said it, but all through the offseason and into OTAs, people have been dropping hints that opposing offenses will be seeing linebacker blitzes this year.
Despite all the hoopla, when the Texans did it correctly, the blitz worked against the run: .
Great call by defensive coordinator Richard Smith. He called for a blitz, and the Giants called a run, and Brandon Jacobs was stuffed for a two-yard loss.
and against the pass:
In an effort to ignite the defense, coordinator Richard Smith is calling blitzes, and it just paid off because C.C. Brown intercepted in the end zone to kill the drive.
In an effort to improve these flashes into an consistent pass rush, the Texans brought in a lot of new blood. Despite the obvious lack of a book end for Mario Williams, several linebackers were brought in who had "pass rush ability."
Chaun Thompson, the other newcomer to the mix, is playing primarily at middle linebacker, but he's also has pass-rush ability. He can put his hand down on the line of scrimmage in third-down situations. He has looked solid in camp as well.
Even Rosevelt Colvin is getting a look-see because of his pass rushing skills.
"(Rosevelt Colvin) He's a good football player who is still available and so we decided to bring him in," Smith said. "He adds a pass rush type of element for us, if we are able to add him or are so inclined to do so. That's what it is. It's an exploratory type of visit. We want to get a look at him and see how healthy he is and continue to talk to him."
So as you'd expect, the Texans are looking for anyone they can find with pass-rushing ability. Even Tim Bulman. But I digress.
The heart of the Texans young defense is also the heart of the linebacker-blitzing effort. Since he's also a media darling, he's given a lot of sound bites that show what the Texans linebackers will be doing this season.
(on how the young players are coming along) "They are picking it up. We have some pretty sharp guys at the linebacker position, so they are picking it up well. It’s very impressive. But with that, we throw wrinkles in every day, so you really have to stay on top of it and really go home and study and stay on top of it, so it gets difficult at times, the more and more you put it in. But they are handling it well."
At first he was just mentioning wrinkles. How many wrinkles can a linebacker have in your standard run support package(s)? Yeah, there are some wrinkles you can throw in with pass coverage, but it just didn't feel like that was what he was hinting at.
(on if the defense will need to put more pressure on the quarterback with CB Dunta Robinson out of the lineup) "We are definitely looking forward to getting pressure with Dunta out or in. We are looking forward to getting pressure on the quarterback, creating sacks and causing turnovers. If we are putting pressure on the quarterback and making them make erratic throws, then we’ll get picks in the back end."
Just two days later, DeMeco seems to want to tell the world what cool things the linebacker corps are working on. He says pressure 3 times, and then describes the result of a good pass rush.
(on the importance of the pass rush) "We’re working on that more as a linebacker group. On the blitz, we are working on our pass rush a lot more. We’re just cutting things down to where we get good at certain things. With our defensive line, Mario (Williams) is definitely getting better, coming off the ball a lot better. They’re going to have to put two on Mario, so that’s going to open up somebody else on the other side."
And then he completely breaks down and reveals that they're focused on a linebacker pass rush. Specifically, it looks like the LBs will be the pass rush to bookend Mario Wililams.
This could work out really well. With two DEs, the OTs basically know where they're looking for the pass rush. With LBs consistently blitzing, someone on the opposition's Oline shouldn't know where their assignment is coming from.
Specifically, Ryans would like to see the linebackers create more turnovers and become more dominant pass rushers. Ryans thinks that more teams will double team defensive end Mario Williams next season, creating an opening for the linebackers to get to the quarterback on the weak side.
"We are looking forward to getting pressure on the quarterback, creating sacks and causing turnovers," Ryans said. "If we are putting pressure on the quarterback and making them make erratic throws, then we’ll get picks in the back end.
They interview Ryans again in the next day or so, and he gets even more detailed about his plans to rush the passer. He seems absolutely giddy that he's going to be let loose to get after the QB.
We know that Williams is going to dominate one edge. Okoye, Tr. Johnson and Okam should provide a push up the middle. The linebackers will be crashing the other side of the line of scrimmage. I can see quarterbacks being flushed from the pockets. From there, it's pick your poison. Do you dance with Mario? Get a bear hug from Okoye? Or try to outrun hungry linebackers who want to put you in the dirt?
With Ryans, Greenwood, Diles, Thompson, Bentley and maybe Colvin all trying to get a piece of the QB, I'd be willing to bet that the linebackers as a unit match Super Mario's sack count this year. Needless to say, it's going to be fun to watch.