Coming into the 2015 season, I and many others, wrote season previews on the Houston Texans. Most of them thought the quarterback depth chart and Arian Foster's injury would prevent a talented team from getting into the post season. What no one foresaw was the defense being an impotent mess.
Last year, the Houston Texans finished 6th in DVOA with a rating of -6.2%, a pass defense rating of -5.3% (6th), and -7.4% rushing (16th). In the offseason, Houston acquired talent to improve on this side of the ball. They used most of their draft capital on defense, selecting Kevin Johnson (16th overall) in the first round and Benardrick McKinney (43rd overall) in the second round. They resigned Kareem Jackson for 4 years, $34 million, and Whitney Mercilus for 4 years, $26 million. Vince Wilfork was hauled in for 2 years, $9 million. Oh, and they added 2014's number one overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney after losing him for most of the previous season because of microfracture surgery.
The Houston Texans were looking forward to building onto their 2014 season after adding more talent to a top ten defense. Instead, they have been a disaster.
|Defensive DVOA||7% (23)|
|Run Defense DVOA||-6.5% (21)|
|Pass Defense DVOA||17.3% (19)|
|Points Allowed||-155 (23)|
|Turnovers Forced||5 (T-27)|
No one foresaw this happening.
What the Team Will Be Saying in February
They'll be saying the defense had a spectacular season, even though the process for easing Clowney back into his regular workload remained ongoing. The combination of J.J. Watt and Vince Wilfork was as good as expected and Louis Nix III made major strides toward being able to be the Texans' nose tackle of the future. The defense helped mask an offense that had some growing pains without Foster early on and helped the team sneak into the playoffs, in which Houston went one and done. That won't work every year.
Greg Gabriel (National Football Post):
Houston has a solid team at just about every position but quarterback. For the Texans to challenge for a playoff slot they have to get good play from that position. While the defense is strong, the unit lost much of their depth to free agency and they have to hope the key players stay healthy. Also Jadeveon Clowney’s injury recovery will be important for the Texans.
A strong argument can be made that not only is end Watt the NFL's top defensive player but is the best player in the league. Houston's pass rush will be even stronger if Clowney can recover from the knee injury that ruined his rookie season. The signing of Wilfork boosts the defensive line and adds a strong locker-room presence.
Matt Weston (Battle Red Blog):
Yet with an improved secondary, thanks to Kevin Johnson, the loss of D.J. Swearinger, and the additions of Wilfork and McKinney to hopefully stop players like Rashad Jennings from rushing for 176 yards, this defense should be able to combat regression somewhat. A drop-off doesn't seem imminent. Houston will be at least a top ten defense with the potential to be a top five.
Six games into the 2015 season, the Houston Texans are one of the worst teams in the NFL because of their offense and defense. The offense was foreseeable. Two terrible quarterbacks having to throw a ton without cornerstone running back Arian Foster is a predictable disaster. The defense wasn't. So why have the Houston Texans fallen from the upper to the lower half of the league?
There are numerous reasons, but let's start with the biggest problem, literally (because Vince Wilfork is big, get it?), and figuratively. In 2014, the Texans started Jerrell Powe at nose tackle. He was the worst nose tackle I've seen in my entire life. After a few games, they put the cord between their teeth and chomped down. They swayed Ryan Pickett into putting down the plastic guitar and turning off Rock Band, inserting the 6'2" 340 pound behemoth into the middle of the defense. Despite Pickett coming from his living room covered in Cheetos dust to the "0" technique position, he balled some. He held onto double teams and opened up lanes for Brian Cushing and whatever crappy inside linebacker was on the field at the time. As a result, the Texans finished eleventh in adjusted line yards (ADL) on runs classified as middle/guard. PIckett retired after the Texans decided not to resign him.
This season, the Texans have been even worse, a prevailing theme in this article. Entering Week 7, Houston has allowed 4.16 yards a carry on runs marked as middle/guard (23rd and have an ADL of 3.97 (19) on runs in the same area. Teams have picked up on this weakness and have run the ball 92 times (4th) up the middle, which comes out to 53.4% of all carries.
Teams are slamming right at the soft, squishy center of a defense that is commanded by Vince Wilfork. just as they should. At the age of 34, Wilfork's not the same player anymore. Last season, the Patriots gave up 3.71 ALY (25th) on middle runs and ranked 27th in stuff rate. Like a dreary National album, trouble has followed Wilfork from New England to Houston.
In this scheme, Wilfork has one job. Eat up two defenders and turn "ace" blocks into stalemates so inside linebackers Brian Cushing and whoever else can have open lanes to the ball. For $9 million, he's been unable to do this.
On first and 15 at Houston's 29 yard line, the Colts try to set up more manageable second and third downs by running a power play. They have the fullback pulling to kick out unblocked Whitney Mercilus (#59), the left tackle (Anthony Castonzo #74) blocking right defensive end Jared Crick (#93), and left guard (Jack Mewhort #75) and center (DJ Khaled Holmes #62) have an "ace" block to backside linebacker Brian Cushing (#56). The wide mass of Wilfork (#75) needs to not get driven back and hold the guard at the first level for as long as possible.
Wilfork takes on the outside shoulder of the center. This is exactly the technique you want for a one or three technique who's penetrating into the backfield. It's not for someone who's trying to control both "A" gaps (gap between the center and guard). By attacking the outside shoulder, Wilfork leaves himself susceptible to the left guard's punch.
Additionally, Wilfork lacks a quick get-off. He heaves out of his stance like a fat kid removing himself off a classroom floor after a popcorn reading session rather than exploding off the ball. He simply rises from his stance and pops the center.
Before the guard makes contact, Wilfork has already been pushed back and to the left. This is because he hasn't been making first contact on most plays. The center is the one delivering the first punch, getting his hands inside, and gaining immediate control.
When the guard comes, the center is able to hit Wilfork's side. At this angle, Vince is wide open. He's a giant blueberry waiting to be popped. He can't offer any resistance to the second blocker.
Mewhort fully extends and shoves Wilfork down the line of scrimmage. This movement zips open the hole.
Mewhort gets to the second level and attempts to make contact with Cushing. He can't because Cushing is holding onto his facemask with one hand.
The guard recovers and gets his hands on Cushing and finished the second part of the "ace" block. With WIlfork out of the play, Mercilus trapped, and Cushing engaged, Frank Gore has room to run.
This play is a perfect depiction of the issues the run defense faces in their base 3-4. Wilfork has failed to hold the point of attack. The offensive line gets a hat on a hat. And we are about to dive into some poor tackling. Crick (#93) leaps off his block to bring down Gore. He comes off high though, and the running back brushes him aside.
John Simon, (#51) Texans' outside linebacker and amateur stunt double, pursues back across from the wide side of the formation to the ball.
He hops onto Gore's back.
Simon too is slung aside. Simon proceeds to roll around the turf after he springs out of a moving vehicle.
Kareem Jackson appears from the slot position and delivers a Swanton Bomb off the top turnbuckle that knocks Gore out.
Too often VInce Wilfork is easily handled by double teams. He hasn't been able to control the first play-side double team, and as a result, he's made the job harder for the players he's supposed to help.
Wilfork's other problem is that when he does get into the backfield, he gets too far up field and is too slow to make a play on the ball.
The Buccaneers are running an outside zone play with 4:31 remaining in the first quarter. The Spark Notes version is that the covered man blocks the guy next to him, and the uncovered man doubles with the covered man or moves to the second level if the down lineman is too far away. Here, the center, Evan Smith (#62), is covered by Wilfork, who's playing the "1". Since Wilfork is playing an outside shade, Smith won't get any help from the left guard.
Wilfork takes on the outside half of Smith.
Even though Wilfork is outside, Smith gets outside head placement. He's able to do this because he keeps his feet moving, and because WIlfork is slow. After being beat initially, Smith keeps his feet working and still reaches his landmark. This is important because even if he gets beat (spoiler alert: he does), he can still act as an obstacle between Wilfork and Doug Martin (#22).
Now Wilfork jams his hands inside of Smith's chest. He uses his strength to plow through the numbers. That's cool and all, but it's a dumb move from a veteran player. Wilfork should know by now that when an offensive lineman is trying to reach him, the play is going outside. He should force the center down the line of scrimmage. Instead he pushes him deep into the backfield. This takes him out of the play entirely.
Wilfork is deep enough in the backfield that he should shed and look for the ball carrier. He doesn't and keeps driving with his head down.
Martin cuts around the flotsam and makes Wilfork disappear.
This play by Wilfork makes a nice GIF or Vine. If you add a riveting title to it like "Vince Just Can't Be Blocked," you'll get tons of retweets and loops until the NFL takes it down. This is not a good football play, though. Wilfork gets penetration in the wrong direction and moves too far into the backfield to make a difference. Even when he shows some resemblance of the player Houston paid for, it doesn't matter.
So far this season, Wilfork has been the exact opposite of what the Texans needed from the nose tackle position. They thought they were getting a monster who would gobble up blocks. Instead, they have gotten a version that slogs off the ball, is manhandled against double teams, and can't get anything out of his disruption.
To say Wilfork is the only problem facing the run defense would be a lie. The other issue is Houston doesn't play in their 3-4 package as often as they want. When teams have spread the Texans out, Houston goes to their nickel and dime packages. This leads to McKinney, the rookie who has gotten the majority of snaps of late, coming out for Eddie Pleasant at linebacker. Yes, that sentence is correct. Eddie Pleasant plays nickel linebacker for the Houston Texans.
The reasoning here is simple and sad: Cushing, McKinney, Akeem Dent, and Justin Tuggle all can't cover. The Texans have a DVOA of 42.3% when covering running backs which puts them at 31st in the NFL. The league average is 0.0%. When it comes to tight ends, Houston jumped from 21st in the league with a DVOA of 9.5% to 12th with a DVOA of -10% because of Julius Thomas' drops and the miscommunication between him and Blake Bortles last week .
Houston is terrible at this facet of the game because of coverage mistakes and a lack of quickness. Against the Falcons, the Texans were down 21-0 in the second quarter and trying their best to even resemble a 7th grade football team.
On 2nd and 10, the Falcons come out in a balanced wide receiver formation with Devonta Freeman in the backfield. The tight end is in the slot, and the left wide receiver is running routes toward the inside of the field. This route combination clears up space for Freeman.
McKinney and Cushing are playing man coverage. In most situations, their coverage is based on where the receiver is. So here McKinney would take the tight end and Cushing the running back. The problem is with the tight end running inside, it makes more sense for Cushing to cover him and for McKinney, who's playing farther outside, to go out in the flat.
When the ball is snapped, both Cushing and McKinney cover the tight end.
The outside receiver pulls the corner away. Now Freeman is by himself in the flat. I don't know for sure if this is a lack of communication between Cushing and McKinney or a blown coverage by one and not the other. But what is easy to see is that they leave Freeman wide open. This gives the Falcons one of the easiest forty yard gains you'll ever see and sets up another touchdown that makes the game 28-0 before the half.
The other issue is that there's a general lack of speed at the linebacker position. McKinney has ideal size to play inside linebacker but doesn't have the lateral quickness. He's a lumbering tackler drafted to make plays between the tackles, not outside of them. Also, Cushing is noticeably slower after having two major leg injuries.
With 2:56 remaining in the first quarter, Cushing's lack of speed is on display. The Falcons are running a jail break screen to Freeman in the slot.
Cushing recognizes the play immediately.
When he sprints toward Freeman, Cushing takes a downhill angle to the ball carrier.
At this angle, Freeman becomes even with Cushing. There's a yard between the two players.
The linebacker is forced to make a meek dive at his ankles. Freeman shrugs it off and picks up nine yards before being tackled by Justin Tuggle.
2011 Brian Cushing makes this tackle. It's not an issue of him taking a poor angle to the ball carrier. It's an issue of him taking a poor angle at the speed he plays at now. He needs to learn that he's a slower player now and can't make the tackles he used to. He needs to make the adjustments necessary to shave five yards off this play. If he comes flatter to Freeman or even up field some, he gets credited for the tackle. Since he's not as good as he once was, Cushing ends up on the turf as the younger and faster player he used to obliterate scampers away.
Freeman is a special player decimating defenses, though. Here's the same problem in GIF form where Cushing is outrun after taking a poor angle. This time it's by a tight end, Dwayne Allen.
Because teams have tortured the Texans with screen passes and throws to running backs, Romeo Crennel has had to try to innovate on the fly. As mentioned earlier, he's done this by bringing in a third safety, Eddie Pleasant, to play linebacker when the Texans go into their nickel formation. The results have been disastrous. The Texans have been eaten alive against offenses when they run the ball from spread formations.
The Falcons have the ball on Houston's 23 after a Brian Cushing third down sack was negated due to an illegal use of hands penalty on Pleasant. Atlanta is in the shotgun with three receivers. The Texans counter with their nickel that has Clowney and Watt rushing from wide positions, Crick playing a "3" (outside shoulder of the guard), and Wilfork as the "2i" (inside shoulder of the guard).
The Falcons are running a power play right at Crick, who is playing defensive tackle rather than the defensive end position he's accustomed to. If the right guard and tackle get movement and even breathe on Cushing, they are set up for a nice gain because of the defensive line's alignment. Wilfork is slow, and as a result, he can't make a play from that far away. Watt's on a different planet. Clowney is playing wide and only needs to be hindered.
The left guard (Andy Levitre #67) takes on exactly half of Crick (#93), and is still able to get movement. This is going to be a massacre when the tackle (Jake Matthews #70) joins in on the fun. The right guard, Chris Chester (#65), is able to pull without a problem because Wilfork is slow. He couldn't touch him even if he was unblocked. The center does a great job swallowing #75 up.
Clowney is handled well enough by the tight end in the slot. Ryan Schraeder (Right Tackle #73) grabs onto Watt to keep him from chasing back-side. The fun comes on the center of the play. Crick is holding on for his life. The "deuce" block (a combo block between the guard and tackle) makes him wish for an alternate reality or anything that gets him away from taking on 600 pounds of man. Freeman receives the hand off from Matt Ryan with a lead blocker as he screeches his feet towards the two "linebackers" who've yet to take a step.
The "deuce" has taken Crick back two yards. I love how Matthews is still on the block. Rather than be in a hurry and rush to Cushing, he makes the first level a priority and stays on it until the block takes him to the second level. The right guard reaches the hole, and Freeman has a four yard gap to run through.
Matthews engages with Cushing. Pleasant is screwed. Even David had better odds way back when.
Cushing tries to slip under Matthews' block and gets trapped away from the ball. All Pleasant can do is run backwards. The last line of defense, the safeties, do their part in showcasing the Texans' tackling woes. Quintin Demps (#27) takes a turrrrrrrible angle.
Demps dives at Freeman. Demps fails.
Freeman runs right past Rahim Moore (#26). For 23 yards, Freeman goes unscathed for the touchdown and makes the game 14-0 Atlanta.
Houston has enough problems stopping the run in the 3-4. But these problems are compounded even more when offenses spread them out. By subbing out a linebacker for Pleasant, the Texans become an even worse tackling and run defending team. They do this because they can't cover the shorter part of the field.
The Texans are forced to pick a hand. In one hand is a cyanide pill. In the other is a Ricin cigarette. No matter what option the Texans select, they are screwed. All because they lack speed at the linebacker position.
Rick Smith devoted resources this offseason to fix the run defense. These acquisitions haven't worked so far, and the Texans are worse at defending the run than they were last year. However, this drop-off has merely been a leap from the bed of a truck compared to the fall that has come against the passing game.
The Texans have fallen from from 6th to 19th in DVOA (they were 27th before last week's win over Jacksonville). One of the reasons has been highlighted already--issues covering tight ends and running backs. The others are the Texans are giving away yards because of the cushions they take pre-snap, Kareem Jackson's struggles, and an inability to rush the passer.
By using quick passes, Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts took advantage of the Texans' cushions on Thursday Night Football.
Before the snap, we see the Texans' typical 3-4 defense. In the secondary, both Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are playing off at corner. Demps is closer to the line of scrimmage to help cover the middle of the field. Moore is playing deep by himself.
One of the premier deep threats in the game, T.Y. Hilton, is matched up one-on-one against Joseph. It makes sense for Joseph to play this deep with only one safety back, until you look at the quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck and his frail arm should never have this much room.
Despite Joseph giving Hilton nine yards before the snap, J-JO starts off the play by backpedaling. Hilton is running a deep out.
Hilton breaks on his route. Joseph doesn't get within three yards of Hilton before the ball is thrown.
At his age, Joseph lacks the speed to break on the ball when he gives this much room. There's no chance for him to make any impact here. The Texans are giving away yards like candy on the spoooookiest day of the year.
Hilton is as open as it gets on this twelve yard pick up.
The Texans pass out yards because their strong safety, Quintin Demps, is playing down in the box. Like Eddie Pleasant, this is a direct result of the problems Houston has covering the shorter part of the field. This leads to the cornerbacks playing man-to-man with only Rahim Moore back deep. Moore is an acceptable centerfielder, but he's not Andrew McCutchen. He doesn't have the speed to make plays on the ball when he's the only man back there. He's simply an insurance policy. So to prevent their corners, Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, from giving up big plays, the corners play off eight to twelve yards pre-snap, leading to easy throws for any quarterback to make.
Jackson signed a four-year deal this past spring. So far, he hasn't been worth it. This season, Jackson has been lost and has played without confidence. Kareem is one of the more physical corners in the league. He works best when he can use his strength and boss receivers around at the line of scrimmage. The cushions have neutered him. He's out of his element playing this far off the ball.
The two biggest problems I've seen with Jackson is that he wastes steps in coverage, and even when he plays good coverage, he doesn't react to the ball.
Here Kareem is in the slot matched up against Leonard Hankerson. Pre-snap, K-Jax is giving seven yards or so. Hankerson is running a simple out route.
This is the problem. When Hankerson cuts outside, Jackson is taking an extra step back. Kareem needs to be breaking on the route now. Instead, he wastes a step and opens the route up for Hankerson.
Then when he breaks on the ball, he comes down hill at too sharp of an angle. This takes him in front of the receiver and leads to him running back up the field to the ball.
The coverage isn't terrible. The footwork is. Jackson has been sloppy with his feet. By taking buffer steps and poor angles, he's giving up extra space that leads to completions.
Ball skills are the other issue I've seen with Jackson this season. Even when he does play good coverage, his head is frozen to his neck like Peyton Manning. He has spent too much time running after the receiver and not playing the ball.
The other aspect to a successful pass defense is the rush. The Texans have an adjusted sack rate of 3.6%, which is 30th in the league. If you want to look at total sacks, they have eight. This ties them with both New York teams and Indy for 30th as well. Houston can't rush the passer because of a lack of blitzing ability, J.J. Watt being the only real pass rush threat, and teams mitigating Watt's impact.
The Bucs' pass protection on this play combines man and gap schemes. The left side of the line is shifting one gap over to the strong side of the defensive formation; the right side is playing man-on-man. Houston is rushing straight forward except for Clowney. He's thrashing the inside gap in attempt to draw two linemen to open the lane for Justin Tuggle. Yes, Clowney is trying to free up Justin Tuggle.
Everyone gets off the ball.
The interior players make their punches. Clowney jams his foot into the ground and cuts inside.
The problems here, and the problems that occur way too often, are a general lack of creativity when blitzing and no one doing anything. In an obvious pass situation, Crennel calls a blitz that has his second best pass rusher be the decoy for one of the slowest players on the team. Tuggle could rush freely around the edge and Winston wouldn't even know there was a free man. Last season, Crennel did a nice job creating unblocked rushers. This season he's been like a rock band who has run out of things to say after five albums. This is the best he can come up with when there's a mistake-prone rookie quarterback throwing out of his own end zone.
The other concern is that no one has any pass rush moves. Simon, Crick, and Mercilus all attack the outside shoulder and rip. If that doesn't work, their rush is over. None of them have any other moves. Wilfork simply comes out of his stance and pops whoever is in front of him in the chest. Clowney is a tornado of terror, but this tornado runs through an empty field and never creates any real destruction. Watt is the only one who knows what he is doing.
The tackle wraps his arms around Watt and holds on blatantly. The running back will go out in the flat and punch him in the ribs.
The rest of the defense is a waste of time. The left tackle Donovan Smith (#76) helps on Clowney and leaves him when Tuggle comes to the "C" gap. He doesn't chase and keeps control of his gap. Clowney, Wilfork, and Crick are all head up with an offensive lineman and provide nothing.
When Tuggle finally makes contact, he just runs straight into the tackle. There's no plan. There's nothing here. His only idea was to run around Clowney and partake in celestial insurance by praying to every higher power man has ever believed in and hoping the left tackle evaporates.
Watt takes the hit and recovers by spinning inside.
I just feel bad for Watt. He gets held. He gets gutted in the stomach as if he's the squinty eye child in Pay It Forward. And he still is able to get some pressure on the quarterback while the rest of his team runs straight into an offensive lineman.
When the Texans played the Colts on Thursday night, they had zero sacks and only three quarterback hits against one of the better pass protection offensive lines in the league. The reason why the Colts were able to provide an impenetrable shield for the quarterback who went to the Super Bowl before the hit stick was invented was the use of seven man protections. Both the Colts and the Panthers used this strategy to keep this fetid bunch from getting to the quarterback. Teams have done this to create double teams on the line of scrimmage and to get more men on Watt.
Indianapolis is shifting their offensive line one gap over and both backs are sealing the edge away from the shift.
When the ball is snapped we see the movement over. Wilfork lumbers out of his stance like an eighty year old man uttering, "Gosh dangit, Muriel" as he hobbles to the toilet trying not to pee himself at 4 a.m.. He's a worthless pass rusher. He's in the "A" gap, the one the right guard has control over. The center has no one in his gap, so he punches to get a double team and keeps his eyes inside on his prescribed gap.
Two double teams have emerged. The center and right guard both are blocking Wilfork. Right tackle (#79) Joe Reitz and the fullback are on Watt.
Each of these double teams are awesome. They are hip to hip and keeping their eyes inside. As we see here, the center is offering only a hand of help on Wilfork and keeping his eyes on Crick's (#93) swim move that takes him inside.
With the running back coming to help off the edge, the Colts have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (!) blockers to the Texans' 5 rushers.
The center leaves Wilfork to help the right guard, Jack Mewhort. The right tackle peels off Watt when McKinney delay-blitzes into the "B" gap. Even locked up with Watt, Reitz still has the awareness to keep his eyes on his gap.
Hasselbeck completes a 43 yard pass to T.Y. Hilton that seals the win. From the snap to throw, he faces zero pressure.
In addition to seven man fronts, teams have chipped and cut Watt in an attempt to slow down the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. In addition to the Bucs, both the Colts and Falcons opted to chip Watt by having a player in the slot dip a knife into his ribs once the play begins.
The Falcons had their right tackle, Ryan Schraeder, cut Watt on nearly every pass play. This acted as a speed bump on his pass rush and kept his hands down in the quick passing game.
Even when the Texans get a pass rush, they can't make plays. Here John Simon breaks free and misses Matt Ryan for a sack. The Falcons quarterback then completes a pass to Freeman. He turns a ten yard loss into a 26 yard pass because Simon is an awful tackler who can't make a play.
The Texans' pass rush is anemic, which pairs terribly with a secondary that has issues of its own. They can't blitz. They lack pass rushers. They can't make plays when they have the chance. And now Watt is playing against two and three men a play while no one else can win a one-on-one battle.
The final problem with this defense is they aren't creating turnovers and making big plays like they did last year.
|Takeaways||Turnover Differential||TO%||Turnovers Negated||Plays Less Than 0 Yards||4th Down Stops|
|5 (T-29)||-5 (T-27)||1.8% (27)||3 (1)||28 (T-20)||0 (32)|
The Texans forced 32 turnovers last season after forcing just 11 in 2013. In Week Six, they made the most of Blake Bortles Bortlesing and improved from two to five, good for 28th in the league. It's a perfect example of regression to the mean. Turnovers have a high variance because the defense has to react to the offense making a mistake. It's not something they can make happen all on their own. After an unsustainable mark in 2014, the Texans have dropped down to the dungeon. They should create more turnovers as the season progresses, but it won't be anywhere near what they did in 2014.
There are issues that aren't going to change overnight on this team. Brian Cushing isn't getting any faster. John Simon isn't going to learn how to tackle. Eddie Pleasant isn't going to become a good football player. Vince Wilfork and Johnathan Joseph aren't going to build a time machine. Jadeveon Clowney isn't going to gain veteran savvy. None of these problems are going away.
Yet there are things Crennel can do to try to patch the ark with duct tape. First, I would take Eddie Pleasant off the field. He can't blitz. He can't tackle. He can't take on blockers of any size. He's not good enough in coverage to warrant him replacing a linebacker.
What's funny is the player they released, D.J. Swearinger, would be perfect in this position. But he's another failed Texans non-first round pick. What I would do is put Kareem Jackson in this position. He's lost in coverage right now. Receivers are cutting in front of him and running past him, and even when he does play good coverage, he can't find the football. But unlike Pleasant, K-Jax has skills. He can play press coverage, he can blitz, and he's a monster in the run game. With him playing linebacker in nickel and dime packages, Kevin Johnson would play CB2 and A.J. Bouye, Andre Hal, and Darryl Morris would split time in the slot and the fourth corner position.
In the same spirit of Eddie Pleasant, I would stop playing John Simon so much. He's worse than a below-average pass rusher, and he's a horrendous tackler in the run game. No more of him rushing from the three technique and playing every third down. I would use the $8 Million Dollar Man, Whitney Mercilus, on third down.
Mercilus is the only outside linebacker in the NFL paid that much to not rush the passer. This needs to change. He's not good in one-on-one matchups. He can only rip the outside shoulder or bull rush. But at least he's opportunistic. Mercilus knows how to blitz and has had success running stunts with Watt in the past. Most importantly though, Mercilus is not John Simon.
I would also drink a cup of drugs, meditate while I melt in a sauna, lay on the couch in pantyhose with a CD player spinning Celine Dion while I apply lipstick, or whatever it may take to spurn the creativity to use Watt and Clowney together effectively. These are your two best players. An infinite number of possibilities await on how they can be used together, and so far it hasn't been seen enough.
Look at this play. This right here is the dream. Houston has Clowney playing the "3" and Watt the "7". At the snap, Clowney bulldozes the guard down the line of scrimmage and almost beats him too badly. He gets close to taking himself out of the play, but at the last second he shoves off, comes back inside, and tackles the running back. All this occurs while Watt rips under the tight end and just barely misses the back.
More things like this need to occur. This is what everyone envisioned when Clowney was selected with the first overall pick. Instead, Clowney is opening up lanes for Justin Tuggle. Screw that. Throw these two together and obliterate offensive lines and massacre running backs.
I'm also done with deep cushions against certain players. You don't need to give Andre Johnson eight yards. You don't need to give Matt Hasselbeck eight yards. You especially don't need to give Matt Hasselbeck throwing to Andre Johnson eight yards. I understand you are playing one safety deep because the linebackers can't cover, but you can't take the offense off the field when you are giving cushions this large.
Lastly, Vince Wilfork should never play another snap in the nickel or dime again. He is useless as a pass rusher and has been the last two seasons. I would use Christian Covington as a three technique in these situations. He's not great, but he's young and has some athletic ability. He can actually get off the ball and play in space, unlike Wilfork, who gets out of his stance as quickly as Snorlax wakes from a slumber.
Every week the Texans have waited for their defense to break out. The Chiefs exploited the Texans' inability to tackle and cover running backs and tight ends. Carolina's makeshift offensive line handled the Texans' front seven and Cam Newton was the best player on the field. Tampa Bay was a few missed field goals and miraculous displays of veteran skill from Johnathan Joseph from keeping the Texans winless. The Falcons spread Houston out and slaughtered their nickel and dime packages in the run game. Indianapolis kept a forty year old quarterback upright the entire game and took advantage of Houston's deep cushions. Blake Bortles moved the ball through the air until his mistakes derailed an otherwise good performance.
And you know what? I don't see it happening. This isn't a defense with one problem. It's a unit filled with them. Together, each of these little inadequacies have unraveled like a ball of yarn. Houston's defense and offense have been equally terrible. For the second season in a row, only moral victories are left to be had.
Texans vs Dolphins coverage