The Houston Texans undid many of their long-standing defensive problems in 2011 with the hiring of Wade Phillips and the free agent acquisitions of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning. Gone were the days where you could say that shutting down Mario Williams meant that the Texans' pass rush disappeared. Gone were the days where Texans safeties had the range of potted plants, as converted corner Glover Quin and Manning had arguably the best two safety seasons in Texans history. And, for the first time since Dunta Robinson was still healthy (arguably), they employed a shutdown corner that could run stride-for-stride with anyone in the NFL.
Still unaddressed: nose tackle. Despite a decent run defense as a whole, the Texans finished 25th in power success situations, gave up an above-average number of Adjusted Line Yards up the middle, and had teams run on them up the middle an astonishing 67 percent of the time. Not only was that number the highest in the NFL this year, it's the highest in the NFL since 2008, when 66 percent of rushes against the Patriots went up the middle.
So despite the fact that the Texans were, at best, okay defending the run up the gut, even though they almost assuredly compensated for it given all the extra attention teams were giving running it up the gut against Houston, Gary Kubiak had this to offer last Monday, unprompted, from the mothership:
If you look at ‘em, take both of ‘em and say they're your starter - they basically split time - they played extremely well, and our defense played well all year long. There's all kinda ways when you're running a 3-4 - a lot of people think you need a big nose. Those two guys aren't very big but they're very active, and [defensive coordinator] Wade [Phillips] has played with both and obviously was successful with those two guys last year, and we think the world of ‘em.
I honestly don't think I've ever read a positive article or piece about Shaun Cody that didn't come from the Texans or John McClain. I know I've seen Scouts Inc. routinely question him, I know that my eyes tell me that he's mediocre on his best days, I know that there aren't many advanced stats that back up the view that either he or Mitchell played well. According to Steph Stradley, not even the random number generators at PFF think they did well.
I don't bring this up to start our yearly bandwagon for first-round nose tackle X, both because I actually don't particularly like Dontari Poe and because I've given up hope at this point. The circumstantial evidence behind the Texans' love of their mediocre nose tackles is overwhelming and baffling. Cody was so important that he had to be re-signed before the lockout, he was so important to defend that this came out unprompted, and his "On The Nose" segments on the mothership are -- aside from being funny -- a pretty good sign that they view him as an important part of their near-term future.
I'm not necessarily saying that Shaun Cody doesn't bring value to the Texans, nor am I saying that he isn't worth a roster spot -- it's just that if I had to compare him to a dessert, it would be a Twinkie: Fine in a pinch, and apparently completely indestructible when the bombs start flying.
To Those That Would Back Cody:
I understand that, yes, nose tackle isn't the most important position on this defense. I realize that this has become a passing league, and that maintaining pass rush and secondary integrity is probably becoming more important than stuffing the run up the gut. Here's the thing though: I'm not much for settling if I don't have to. If Rick Smith had thrown a fifth-round pick at say, Cam Thomas in 2010, retaining Cody while you see if the youngster can play is something I can completely get behind. What I can't get behind is locking myself into a position where I know mediocrity is the upside. And that is what bothers me about Shaun Cody, starting nose tackle, more than anything.
I don't care if Wade Phillips wants a big fat hippo Ngata wannabe at nose or a lithe J.J. Watt-type. I don't care if the round is three or five or six or eighty. I don't even care if he's not active on game day. I just want to be able to point to someone on the roster at nose tackle and think, "There is a chance this guy becomes an above-average player." That's all. The T.J. Yates of nose tackles. Maybe they thought that guy was Earl Mitchell. Maybe it can still be Earl Mitchell. I have many doubts, but I guess it's plausible. I just don't see it happening here -- I thought Mitchell was going to be stretched physically at 4-3 off-tackle.
So I guess I've just reached the point of acceptance with this. There are definitely worse things in the world than your worst starting defender being Shaun Cody. Like the 2010 Texans secondary. Or Seth Wand, starting left tackle. Or seeing BFD's tanlines.
But I will never understand it, and no amount of PR posturing is going to change my feeling on that.