Over the past few hours of catching up on all the reactions that I missed whilst sleeping off a vicious Cougs-related hangover, the one thing that rang hollow to me about the many scathing tantrums on our defense is the blame for Fred Bennett. Let me start out by saying that I've been a game charter for Football Outsiders for two years going on three, and I know we don't exactly have the best reputation with this stuff after Bennett was dubbed the next great hope for the Texans secondary and spent much of last year being pedestrian. I'm also going to caution that I haven't re-watched this game a single time yet, since we don't get our little sheets to fill in until after the Monday night game. That said, I want to quash a few things and go over a few points:
-"Fred Bennett is worse than Petey" is an absolutely incomprehensible argument. DeMarcus Faggins was giving up a long touchdown or touchdown setup catch in almost every single game he played in, even though he was often used as a nickel back. Meanwhile, Fred Bennett gave up 6 catches at a 13.5 ypc clip to Mike Sims-Walker (simplifying, of course, since we haven't broken the tape down yet) as a starting second defensive back. These are completely different situations. I won't bludgeon this point too much because everyone gets overly emotional and attached to the last game's performance, and I expect some hyperbole. But Bennett's performance, circumstantially, wasn't even that bad. Which leads us to...
-"Fred Bennett is killing us" is something that requires a deeper breakdown. Was Bennett's "man" involved in a lot of first down plays? Maybe. Did he miss a tackle or two? Absolutely. But there is a lot more to it than that. Let me channel my inner Kevin Nealon for this one...
Our new (crappy) defensive scheme is run by Frank Bush (idiot), who prefers a more aggressive (masochistic) defense. This scheme often sends 5-7 players (gang bang) right at the quarterback (pound him!), which is great except that everyone (me and your mom) can see it coming (me and your mom) and it leads to a checkdown route (better girls were busy). Because our blitzers take forever to get there (me too), and the coverage was read incredibly easily (your mom), Fred Bennett and his fellow defensive backs that didn't charge the ball immediately (your...sister) are usually in a deep zone (too easy) and give up underneath completions (condoms) to avoid touchdowns (pregnancy).
There isn't a cornerback in the NFL who would thrive under that setup. In my charting experience thus far this year, when the Texans do have someone in a short zone on the blitz, it's usually a DL who has pulled back as part of a zone blitz, and that DL is often Mario Williams because Frank Bush is an idiot. And when they don't blitz? It's usually that same Richard Smith stuff you all remember and love, zone coverage with the front four rushing. Which, somewhat surprisingly to Frank Bush I'm sure, still doesn't work. Particularly when half the players in the scheme can't defend a pass to save their lives.
If you wanted to know the difference between this defensive scheme and say, Rex Ryan's Jets schemes from Week 1, it's all about complexity. We are a few solid players in the front seven from matching their personnel, but we have a DL who demands double teams and we have playmaking linebackers. Part of the difference is that the 3-4, IMO, is easier to blitz from because you have less of a clue where the rushers are coming from when you only have 3 down linemen. But the bigger difference is that the schemes don't take too much undue risk while still creating matchup problems, and they are deeper than "lets rush the cornerback". Ryan's schemes involved tactically exploiting the worst pass protectors on the line (Chris Myers and Duane Brown) by sending multiple men at the same spot, which often left Eric Winston blocking invisible robots. By doing this, he got pass pressure with fewer players than the Texans are using to get no pass pressure at all. The Texans have run only one wrinkle blitz all year that I've charted: when they sent Xavier Adibi on a delayed blitz on Mark Sanchez. Result: Incompletion. Most of Bush's blitzes are strictly Green Eggs & Ham level of simplicity. See quarterback, get quarterback.
So as easy as it is to watch the game film and see Fred Bennett next to a player on a complete pass and say "Fred Bennett is klling us," there really is a lot more to it than that. Fred Bennett is mostly still playing zone and most of those zones are deep. I'm not saying Fred Bennett had the game of his life, or even that he's been good so far this season, but he's managed to keep his men in front of him and is doing an acceptable job; hardly "off the charts bad" as bfd put it. In fact, I think the high expectations placed on him are dragging down his perceived performance simply because he was once thought of so highly. That Fred Bennett isn't coming back, he was someone who couldn't hold up to the film study. Accept that he's a credible NFL corner instead of a star, and these results aren't really that out of line.
And no, he is not "killing us". After the two hugest problems: the massive NT/SS holes and a defensive scheme that makes the Wildcat look like the West Coast offense in terms of big-play potential, Bennett might come in around 7th or 8th on the list of defensive worries. Somewhere between "Somebody wake Amobi Okoye up and tell him he's allowed to play a whole half now" and "Brian Cushing is a two down linebacker". To say that Bennett is the thing between us and a good defense is like saying that the biggest problem with public schools today is that you aren't allowed to pray in class. Speaking of praying, it's the only thing that's going to keep teams out of the end zone against the Texans until one of those two big problems are fixed.