The Texans have had a malady of problems over the years, but one of the position groups that hasn’t let them down has been the linebackers. Both Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham are great run defenders. McKinney plays on the strong side of the defense bludgeoning blockers and still finds the ball. Cunningham thrives on the weak side, chasing, tackling, and running past blocks. The system works. They’re great at it. Just don’t ask either one to cover even a guy like Dion Lewis in man coverage by themselves.
Pro Football Focus has been ranking the NFL’s position groups as we wait for training camp to open. PFF has Houston’s linebackers as one of the elite units in the league, behind only Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Seattle.
The Texans have the only two linebackers to rank in the top 10 in run defense over the past three years in Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham. McKinney is a power player at 257 pounds who can mix it up in the run game and has been one of the best tacklers in the league, missing just 6.9% of his tackle attempts — ranking 16th-best since 2014. He has his limitations when left in single coverage, but McKinney handles short-zone responsibility well enough and has posted 70.0-plus coverage grades in three out of his five NFL seasons.
Cunningham is the playmaker of the group, leading the league in run-stop percentage last season (14.2%). Cunningham uses his great length to slice through blockers to get to the ball in the run game, but he has similar coverage limitations that make him exploitable against quick running backs. His best coverage grade was just a 62.1 mark that came his rookie season in 2017. Cunningham has combined with McKinney to be one of the most durable and productive duos in the league over the past three years.
The backups include Dylan Cole, who has just 470 career snaps, and Peter Kalambayi, who has seen the field just 123 times in his two years. The Texans have one of the best linebacker duos in the league, though their depth is untested.
What do you think? Do you think four seems fair or is it too high?