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Houston Texans First Quarter Review: Defense/Special Teams

Four games in, the defense is building momentum and looks poised to dominate the rest of the season.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Houston Texans Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the First Quarter Review of the Houston Texans. On Tuesday, I talked offense. Today, we’re talking defense and special teams.

After each of the first four games of the Texans’ season, there was a progressive optimism/confidence building about the team’s chances this season.

Jacksonville: Leonard Fournette is going to give me nightmares for the next eight years. The Texans just spent the entire offseason lying to themselves. Even if we lose every game, we still do not have a first or second round pick next year. The sky is falling.

Cincinnati: It’s a 2016 time capsule except with a quarterback who can run. Our defense thankfully came to play, but did we win that game or did the Bengals age faster than the Stark family?

New England: No other team knows how to put an entire franchise in their place like the Patriots. That said, we looked competitive, exciting, and fast. Deshaun Watson put on a solid performance. This team may not be cut out to win these types of games.

Tennessee: I am naming my first born child Deshaun. How many people sat in the film room this offseason and thought that this kid was not as prepared as Tom Savage? We do not even need to block because Watson can scramble so well. We are winning the Super Bowl. I cannot stop giggling.

Maybe we should take a deep breath and just realize last weekend as a fluke.

No. I say eat your heart out Houston. This organization, particularly during the Bill O’Brien era, has put this fan base through a gamut of signal-callers who have made the offensive side of the ball a disaster. So go ahead and tattoo yourself with your Super Bowl prediction. ust make sure it does not cover up your “No Regerts” tattoo.

Sorry, this is a defensive article. Let’s get back on point. The core of this team for a while has been this unit. They usually take a few games to get into full synchronicity, but once they come together, it is difficult to overcome them. An aging secondary that lost a few starters is offset by a young infusion of linebackers with varied skill sets. The return of J.J. Watt has been slow, but seeing him on the field is better than seeing him in sweats. Here is a recap of the position groups for the first four games. I will also quickly cover the special teams because there are some young faces and better performances.

Defensive Line

With the way the Texans play defense, continually moving players around, this group is hard to define. At any point in the game J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington, Joel Heath, Carlos Watkins, and Brandon Dunn could be at any place on the defensive line. The Romeo Crennel/Mike Vrabel defense contorts itself to find favorable match-ups across the line. During the Jacksonville game, the interior of the offensive line was flat-out bullied by the Jag’s O-line. D.J. Reader led the group with five tackles, but they were overwhelmed by Leonard Fournette. Ever since, the Texans have shut down opposing running backs. They held the Patriots to 58 total yards rushing, and they held the Titans’ RBs to 48 yards (not including Marcus Mariota).

J.J. Watt has slowly progressed over the course of the season. His production and statistics definitely do not match his effect on the game. Teams cannot ignore him and will not give him the opportunity to let themselves be “Watt’s comeback game.” Reader has been a stud to start the season. He leads this group in tackles and has done a good job filling the (large) hole in replacing Vince Wilfork. The current rotation has kept the group fresh and in opposing team’s backfields. Covington has been better since the first game, as has Joel Heath, whose productivity has improved. If J.J. can get back to form, watch out, boys and girls.


Brian Cushing’s 10 game suspension for PEDs really hurts. With $18 million owed to him over the next two years, I do not think he has many games left in a Texans uniform. It already looks like the organization has replacements ready to go with Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, and Dylan Cole.

Cunningham’s high ceiling for growth will require time to develop fully. Maybe not as slow as Whitney Mercilus, but he definitely needs more nurturing. His speed helps make up for slow reads that have caused him to be behind plays. I like what Cunningham has to offer, but it would have been helpful if he was not thrown into a starting role with Cushing out.

McKinney is playing at an All-Pro level and has developed across the board as a premiere run-stopper. His biggest weakness is covering backs out of the backfield and letting tight ends sit behind him. He has also started rushing the passer more and providing interior pressure.

Wait...when Jadeveon Clowney is not the first name to come to mind when I think “Texans linebackers,” that means we have a deep group. He is playing on an otherworldly level, making some of the most athletic plays in franchise history. His game against the Patriots was amazing—two sacks and a fumble recovery for a TD. He has hit game-wrecker good and he only seems to be improving.

Whitney Mercilus has been quiet but consistent on the outside edge. He has held the edge well in the last three games and performed especially well against the Patriots, causing the fumble that Clowney took to the house. Together, these linebackers are a versatile and dynamic group that will lead the team to the NFL Playoffs.


I never thought A.J. Bouye was that exceptional of a player when he was here. I did not understand the hype about his talents. He’s proof you never know what you have until it’s gone. Kevin Johnson’s latest injury highlights how crucial Bouye was to this team.

The cornerback position is old and thin. Johnathan Joseph is still playing well, but he does not affect teams like he once did. He definitely is part of the “unsung” squad of players who do their part and never receive as much praise as they deserve.

The other corner, Kareem Jackson, makes plays - for both teams. He usually requires safety help over the top, allowing the middle to be more available for deep throws.

Andre Hal is the best performing player in the secondary. His two interceptions last Sunday gave the team a ton of ammunition to blast the Titans out of Houston.

There are some new faces to group. Marcus Girchrist has done well in the first four games in stopping the run and helping with deep balls. Tom Brady torched the secondary with 378 yards and 5 TDs, allowing the Patriots to glide down the field in the last two minutes to win the game. The DBs have held the other three QBs they’ve played in check, but how much of that can be contributed to the elite front seven?

Special Teams

The Texans have a new young kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who has made 9-of-9 of his field goals, though he did miss an extra point. He put in a 50 yarder against the Titans for a career long. What is also comforting about Fairbairn is his consistent placement on kickoffs. He can easily boot it out of the end zone or stick the ball in the corner four yards deep as well. He hasn’t been placed in a game-winning, high-intensity position yet, but all signs say that he should be ready when the opportunity arises.

Shane Lechler still punts with the best of them in his eighteenth NFL season. His job was very, very easy on Sunday against the Titans, as he rarely took the field for punts. Putting teams deep in their own territory is crucial for the defense and gives the coaches more range in their play calling.

So, it’ss four down and twelve to go. A 2-2 record is not too surprising,, considering what our record has been the last couple years. The next four weeks are versus Kansas City on Sunday Night Football, versus Cleveland, a bye week, and then at Seattle. With Deshaun Watson at the helm and J.J. Watt getting better every week, the next round of games looks much more promising than it once did.