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Red Zone Play: In the Safe(ty) Zone

How can Houston return to being a top ranked pass defense?

NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, the Houston Texans had one of the top-rated pass defenses. In 2017, they plummeted to one of the worst. While the on-the-nose way of looking at things is to blame guys like Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson and Andre Hal, or the loss of A.J. Bouye - or to take it another step further and blame Mike Vrabel – the reality is the loss of a dominant pass rush meant the pass-heavy offenses of the NFL had their way with an overworked Texans’ secondary.

Just look at the names on the front sevens of the best pass defenses in 2016: J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Ware, Everson Griffen. It would be the core of the best All-Pro front seven in recent history.

The old adage stands. A great pass rush creates a great pass defense.

With J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus going down for the count early in 2017, it’s no wonder Houston’s pass defense struggled.

2018 is a new season.

With a front seven of Watt, Clowney, Mercilus, Benardrick McKinney, D.J. Reader, Zach Cunningham and Joel Heath/Christian Covington all returning in a healthy manner, the secondary should have a much easier go at it.

To add to that, new general manager Brian Gaine has already put his fingerprints on the roster. Here’s what the new improved secondary looks like:

Johnathan Joseph has signed a new deal that will potentially ensure he retires in Battle Red.

Kevin Johnson will hopefully resume his path of improvement so he develops into the first-round talent he was meant to be.

Aaron Colvin was brought in as a free agent from the Glitter Kitties. Colvin is touted as the best slot corner in the business. Covering the slot has been an ongoing issue in Houston; hopefully that’s no longer the case.

Kareem Jackson has allegedly taken snaps at safety enough to offer depth at both that position and safety.

Corey Moore was re-signed. Andre Hal is under contract.

Finally, the unexpected big splash, Tyrann Mathieu. While the last time Houston brought in a big-name safety ended in the defensive equivalent of the Brock Osweiler signing, Mathieu is far more promising than Ed Reed was when he came to town. BFD recently called Mathieu the new Bob Sanders, and he meant it as a compliment.

If all these players can stay on the field, newly re-minted defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel should have a field day against opposing offenses. The faster the defense gets off the field, the faster Deshaun Watson gets the ball in his hands and into the end zone.