We beat the drum late last season, then pounded on it in the off-season. Then suffered weeping and gnashing of teeth when Clowney left via trade with Seattle. Now the reality is here: What would the Texans do without Clowney and J.J. Watt who essentially were the teams entire QB pressure generators in 2018?
Over the first month of 2019, Whitney Mercilus did a great job stepping into Clowney’s shoes, in fact, he’s done better so far than Clowney has in Seattle. Granted that should be expected with Mercilus, an intelligent veteran player in the only pro system he’s ever known and Clowney learning a brand new one with no OTAs, training camp or preseason to learn the way of Seattle defense.
But, all the looking in the rear view mirror won’t do anything but take eyes off the road ahead.
As the Houston Texans head to London today without either Clowney or Watt, facing a slippery rookie quarterback in Jacksonville’s Garnder Minshew and a freight train of a running back in Leonard Fournette, a game that seemed like a gimme a few short weeks ago now looks like one that Houston might possibly lose.
[J.J.] Watt led the league with 20 quarterback hits through eight weeks of the season and accounted for 43.5% of the defenses quarterback hits.
How do you overcome the loss of 43.5% of your ability to hit the quarterback?
Sure you can say it’s going to take a team effort to replace Watt, but it’s not like the rules suddenly change and the Texans are allowed to put 14 men on the field every defensive snap. When the whistle blows, it’s going to be up to one guy to replace Watt on every play.
I think there’s a lot of things you can do. Last year was last year, but I think the versatility of D.J. Reader helps. I think there’s a lot of things you can do, though. You’ve got guys like (Barkevious) Mingo, and (Jacob) Martin, Charles Omenihu, that are versatile players.
No one person is going to take the spot of a Hall of Fame player. At the end of the day, these things happen, and we’ve got to move forward and do what we have to do to win games. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do the best we can to put the players in the right position based on what their skill sets are and go try to win games.
Replacing Watt certainly has to be keeping the defensive coaching staff up at night.
That’s what we are upstairs working on right now relative to that position. I feel bad for J.J. I think he’s a great attitude about it. I think everybody saw that relative to his message last night. We all know J.J. He’s going to work hard to be back. He won’t be back this year, but he’ll be back.
The impact of a Watt-less Texans defensive line not only impacts the pressure situation, it means the linebackers and defensive backs are going to have to work harder, and in the case of the DBs, often longer each play. And, that’s not good.
While veteran cornerback Jonathan Joseph fully participated in practice this week, Bradley Roby is still nursing a hamstring injury, Lonnie Johnson Jr. is in the concussion protocol and newly acquired Gareon Conley is also limited by a hamstring issue.
Trying to compensate for the loss of a pro bowler and a hall of famer is hard enough without your defensive roster looking like a list of incoming wounded from a M.A.S.H. unit.
However, it’s times like these that players step out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Defensive backs like A.J. Bouye, Andre Hal and Justin Reid all rose to the occasion when their time to shine came along.
Now guys like rookie defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, linebacker Jacob Martin and defensive back Keion Crossen need to elevate their game and grab the brass ring.
And, what about Barkevious Mingo? Is it time that he followed the lead of Carlos Hyde and showed people the potential he still has?
Since Houston didn’t make any personnel moves prior to the NFL Trade Deadline this week, nor did they bring in the second coming of Lawrence Taylor to replace J.J. Watt, O’Brien is absolutely right that the players they already have need to fill Watt’s shoes. Hopefully one, or more of them rise to the top this weekend.
Who do you think has the best chance of putting their name on Sportscenter this Sunday for Houston’s defense? Give us your best case scenarios in the comments box.