As we saw last week with the offensive side of the ball, the Houston Texans are doing few things well through the first five games of the season. On the offensive end, they are getting their best players on the field for the most part. Of course, one could charitably point out that those might be few and far between. Yet, recognizing who are your best players is probably half the battle.
The Texans have rotated more players in on defense than they have on the offensive side of the football. So, are they employing these guys in the best way possible? Are their younger players performing well? Obviously, some of that will be based on what they are being asked to do and part of that will be on them and their development.
Edge Rushers: Jerry Hughes, Rasheem Green, Jonathan Greenard, Ogbonnia Okonkwo
This is easily the deepest part of the team and that is because Nick Caserio spent more free agency dollars here than anywhere else. He added Hughes, Green, Okonkwo, and Mario Addison via free agency. Addison made his first appearance last week, so he doesn’t qualify as a regular yet. Every player rates at 60.0 or higher except for Addison. Hughes is the only one significantly above average with a 76.6 grade.
This is where philosophies collide. Many of my colleagues want younger guys in there. I get it. You want to develop younger talent because guys like Hughes aren’t going to be a part of the next Texans playoff team. Yet, if you can afford it and it won’t affect your long-term bottom line then why not have a solid football player there in the meantime? If he were blocking a good looking younger player I might balk, but he isn’t. There isn’t anyone worth mentioning that he is blocking, so why not have as many good football players as you can have? Still, we should recognize that most of these guys are stopgaps and acknowledge that edge rusher might be a prime priority in the draft.
Interior Defenders: Ray Lopez, Maliek Collins, Kurt Hinish, Michael Dwumfor
Thomas Booker also recently came back from injury, so he will likely qualify based on snaps within the next few weeks. Lopez and Booker were late round picks and they come in at an underwhelming 61.9 and 35.3 respectively. Lopez looks like a rotational player in the future. Booker might be one and done unless he seriously improves.
Hinish is an undrafted free agent, so his 52.6 has to be seen a little differently given that information. Collins was a solid free agent pickup last season and he is still a plus pass rusher from inside, but his 59.7 overall grade indicates he is not a good defensive tackle overall. Simply put, this is an area of the team where they haven’t invested a ton. A few of these guys are decent rotational players, but they need to focus on this position in the draft.
Linebackers: Christian Kirksey, Kamu Grugier-Hill
The Texans officially run a 4-3 defensive, but with the prolific passing offenses in the league, they end up running a 4-2-5 most of the time. So, Kirksey and Hill and the primary linebackers. Kirksey has picked up his play recently and stands are a solid 64.0. He’s not going to make anyone forget Brian Cushing, but he is a solid rotational player for the future. Grugier-Hill isn’t. He is the worst linebacker amongst those with enough snaps to qualify. His 30.3 sticks out as the lowest of any defender at any position.
The team has a group of a half dozen linebackers that have gotten snaps so far this year. Blake Cashman, Garrett Wallow, and Jake Hansen stand as guys that have all turned in performances over 60.0 on the season. Neville Hewitt, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Kevin Pierre Louis have also gotten snaps, but they probably shouldn’t see many more based on what they have done so far. In particular, Cashman and Wallow should supplant Grugier-Hill from now on. Christian Harris should be returning this week as well. There is no reason Grugier-Hill should see the field anymore in a Texans uniform.
Cornerbacks: Desmond King, Derek Stingley Jr., Steven Nelson
This is another good unit. Simply put, the biggest change has been Nelson. His 68.5 grade won’t get him to any Pro Bowls, but it allows King to move back inside where he is more effective (77.9). So, you have one outside slot nailed down along with the slot. Stingley’s 50.4 is really disappointing, but his last game against the Jaguars might be an encouraging sign that better things are coming.
The other good news is that they have kept Eric Murray off the field for the most part. His 62.9 grade is better than in years past and that is likely because they are limiting his exposure. He will be replaced following the season. Isaac Yiadom has a 60.0 grade which means he probably is sitting on the default number until he does something significant one way or another.
Safeties: Jonathan Owens, Jalen Pitre
it has literally been these two guys the whole time. Eric Murray can play corner or safety, so he may have taken a few snaps here. That means M.J. Stewart has been missing in action after a strong showing in Cleveland last season. Pitre’s number (47.7) is very disappointing given the number of plays he has made. That is mostly due to his coverage stats which are underwhelming. Simply put, his and Stingley’s development are the two most important things from here on out this season.
Owens leads the team in tackles. He is rated pretty highly (68.8) for a guy that is a street free agent. He might be a decent long-term solution and if Pitre’s production matches his talent then the safety position could be a position of strength. When you have talented young players you have to let them grow and that is what they are doing with Stingley and Pitre.