After getting two weeks from J.J. Watt without him ever reaching his final form before losing him for the season, the Texans are 12th in DVOA at -3.3% (8th against the pass, 26th against the run), and have allowed 167 points, which is 11th in the league. The biggest reason for their success hasn’t been because Whitney Mercilus or Jadeveon Clowney stepped up. The team has talent, but not depth, especially on the front seven. Without Watt, they haven’t rushed the passer or stopped the run like they did with him. Clowney, Mercilus, and others have had problems winning one-on-one blocks, and most of the pressure has been the result of stunts and interior blitzes. Romeo Crennel has manufactured a pass rush and it has held up, falling from 8th to only 12th in pressure rate. The defensive line can’t hold the line of scrimmage. The linebackers have been having to work through blocks, and their vision is covered in mud. Aside from the occasional Jadeveon Clowney backside screech, the run defense has been bludgeoned.
No, what has saved this defense has been the secondary. Kevin Johnson was showing that he is a number one cornerback until a re-aggravated foot injury finished his 2016 season. They've survived that loss because of A.J. Bouye. That little smirkster has graded out well according to PFF and has constantly made plays on the ball. He has locked down the CB2 spot. This has allowed Kareem Jackson to play in the slot, at his more natural position. Andre Hal has also been back there. It’s hard to gauge what he does because he plays off the screen, but the Texans haven’t allowed deep passes this year, and that is what Hal is paid to do. Although the interceptions aren’t there, Hal has been good again this season, one of the rare Rick Smith late round finds.
Through eight games, I would give the defense a B+. They have done a better job without Watt than I expected. Players like Bernardrick McKinney and Bouye have been awesome in their new roles. The secondary locks things down. The defense still isn't dominant or great. They have been above average, which is more than I expected without Watt.
How would you grade the Texans’ defense? Have they held up as well as you thought they would without Watt? Are you impressed by the players that have stepped up? Is it a result of the schedule? How do you think they will fare in the second half against better offenses? Cast your ballot in the poll and then explain your reasoning in the Comments below.