Nick Caserio signed 27 linebackers this offseason. Christian Kirksey, Joe Thomas (no, not that one), Kamu Gruiger-Hill, and virtually a whole new corps has been brought in to move from a 4-3 to a 1-8-2 despite the fact the league has been moving to a 4-2-5.
The Texans have one plus linebacker of the 27 on the roster, and that’s Zach Cunningham. One of the questions about last season was whether Cunningham could find another level as the center of a defense after his contract extension. He didn’t last year. He missed tackles. He also missed D.J. Reader and Benardrick McKinney. He missed playing on the weak side, chasing past blocks, and delivering kill shots.
Although last year was a down campaign for him, Cunningham is still ranked just outside of the ten best linebackers in the NFL according to PFF. Pro Football Focus had the following to say:
“Nobody made more defensive stops in 2020 than Zach Cunningham, who racked up four more than any other linebacker (70) and generated the best run-stop percentage (12.8%) in the league. While Cunningham is a tackling machine, he also whiffs on too many attempts. But despite his 45 misses over the past two seasons, he flies to the football and involves himself in a lot of plays.”
It’s easy to be part of a lot of plays when there’s no one on the defensive line or next to him who could. Someone had to do it, and Cunningham did it last year—past the line of scrimmage. Here’s to hoping for better days and better games from Houston’s front seven anchor so he starts playing up to the contract and responsibility he has.