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Red Zone Play: Fixing Houston’s Defense Won’t Fix The Problem

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The Texans’ problems run deeper than the defensive staff.

Houston Texans v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Since the Texans had one of the most horrific postseason collapses in the 100 year history of the NFL a little more than a week ago, they’ve fired outside linebackers coach John Pagano and parted ways with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

But don’t worry. The Texans have promoted defensive line coach Anthony Weaver to defensive coordinator and they have Brian Cushing on staff to “Come on, BLUE!” the outside linebackers if need be.

Meanwhile, Weaver has inherited all the same problems that kept Crennel from having success in his final season calling the defense in Houston—zero ability to pressure the passer, zero ability to stop opposing receivers, and an offense that rarely sets the defense up for success.

For Weaver to truly flourish, the Texans will need to do the following:

  • Find a way to land a Pro Bowl level edge rusher. Whitney Mercilus is clearly not an Alpha Dog in this defense; Mercilus needs someone else to take some heat so he can flourish. If the Texans can get one of the top tier guys about to hit free agency, Mercilus should earn his new paycheck. Shaq Barrett, Yannick Ngakoue or Frank Clark maybe?
  • Re-sign Bradley Roby.
  • Find another starting cornerback who can shut down big opposing receivers. If Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are going to battle it out again and again for control of the AFC, Houston needs to stop the Travis Kelces of the world. Marcus Peters and Byron Jones might both be within reach.
  • Re-sign D.J. Reader.
  • Get Reader some help on the line. Collapsing the pocket from the A and B gaps does a lot for edge rushers and the secondary. Reader had a breakout year, but there’s only so much one cat can do. Maybe Chris Jones or Leonard Williams?

Those are all the obvious ones. Here’s where the controversy kicks in as I tell you what I would do, and I type this knowing nearly every Texans fan will surely hate it.

  • Trade J.J. Watt to the Green Bay Packers for their 2020 first round pick. Watt’s clearly not the man he once was, and while he’ll go down in history as the greatest defensive lineman in franchise history, this team needs more than he can bring these days.

Watt is due to make $15.5 million next season, per Spotrac.com. That’s a lot of cap space for a guy who most likely won’t make it through the season and won’t be the game wrecker Weaver needs to return this defense to dominant form.

Why the Packers? Well, it’s no secret that J.J. is a national treasure in Wisconsin, and with the colossal spanking the Packers’ defense took at the hands of the 49ers last weekend, they clearly need defensive help as well. Landing and extending Watt would stoke the fires of Green Bay fandom, sell a few million jerseys in a hot minute, and show the Packers’ braintrust is trying to squeeze the last little bit of Title Town mojo out of an aging Aaron Rodgers.

To summarize, Watt is worth more to the Packers than any other team. Having made the NFL’s Final Four means the Packers’ first round draft pack is #30, which carries less weight than a top 10 pick obviously. If not Green Bay’s #1, then maybe Bill O’Brien could swing a second and third round pick or some other combo that improves Houston’s draft choices this year. O’Brien already gave away Jadeveon Clowney for some magic beans, so there’s no reason to hang onto an aging Watt.

Then use that cap space and draft capital to bring in more o-line help and an edge rusher worth $15 million a year. Clowney will most likely set the market for edge rushers, so the Texans should do their best to land a player BEFORE Seattle backs up the Brinks truck to Clowney’s house.

All of these changes notwithstanding, the real problem didn’t lie with Romeo Crennel or John Pagano last year. The problem was and is the head coach. However, since that dead horse has been beaten to a pulp, we’re stuck working with what we have...or collapsing into despair over the reality of the last 12 months.

Either way, some of the blame for the 41-0 run Kansas City put on the Texans falls on the defense, but the inability to interrupt that touchdownpalooza by the Kansas City Chiefs with touchdowns of our own clearly falls on the offensive side of the ball. But that’s a discussion for another time.

What do you think about all this? Excited to see what Weaver can do? Feel like it’s just “moving deck chairs around”? Wish the Astros had fired Bill O’Brien instead of A.J. Hinch? Give us your thoughts.