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Houston Texans Linebackers: Can You Fog A Mirror?

How far this unit has fallen from the days of Brian Cushing.

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Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Once upon a time the Houston Texans had one of the best defenses in the NFL. These units were anchored for years by one of the more feared linebackers in the league, Brian Cushing.

Say what you will about the embattled player, but #56 brought a nastiness and aggression to the team that made opposing offenses, and sometimes fellow Texans (See: Alfred Blue) fear going anywhere near Cushing’s spot on the field. Along with Demeco Ryans, J.J. Watt and several other key players, the Texans were known for their stout defenses.

Brian Cushing

Sadly, those days are gone. Long. Gone.

Last season, the Texans fielded the 30th overall best defense in the league.

30th... out of 32... in other words the 3rd worst.

The linebacking corps, often known as the heart of the defense, tasked with both stopping the run and defending the pass equally in today’s NFL, provided what might be referred to as a piss-poor result. Houston Texans 2021 Roster Grades

The first column after the player number is their overall PFF grade for 2021. Next is their run defense, followed by pass defense, then coverage.

Aside from Kevin Pierre-Louis, who barely even played last season, none of the Texans 2021 linebackers did even a decent job last season.

Any sane person, trying to correct and improve upon the 2021 defensive results would either

A) change the defensive coach and scheme if GM believed they had quality players who weren’t put in position to succeed, or, B) improve the roster with better players.

In true Cal McNair fashion, the Houston Texans rewarded terrible results once again by promoting the man responsible for the 30th best overall defense from coordinator to head coach. Shades of Bill O’Brien’s ascension continue to haunt us.

So, “A” must not be a viable solution in the eyes of Cal McNair and general manager Nick Easterby Caserio.

That leaves us with “B” as the path forward.

On 3/19/2022 the Houston Texans re-signed Kamu Grugier-Hill—the player who achieved a 44.4 PFF grade last season. Good enough to land at 69th best in the league out of 87 eligible players.

On 3/12/2022 the Houston Texans resigned Jalen Reeves-Maybin—the player who earned a 55.8 PFF grade last year. Good enough to land at 42nd best out of 87 eligible players.

On 3/10/2022 the Houston Texans signed Ogbo Okoronkwo—the lone upgrade to the linebacking corps so far this season. Okoronkwo graded at 79.2 overall in 2021 while playing for the Los Angeles Rams.

On 3/6/2022 the Houston Texans resigned Christian Kirksey—the player who achieved a 50.3 PFF grade in 2021. Good enough to land at 55th best out of 87 eligible players.

On 2/24/2022 the Houston Texans resigned Tae Davis—the player who never took a snap as a Houston Texans last season, but earned a 66.5 overall PFF grade as a Cleveland Brown in 2020, and a 27.9 the year before.

Per salary cap site Spotrac, as of this writing the Texans have $21.7 million tied up in the 2022 linebacker cap hit. This equates to just 10.15% of the overall available cap.

This doesn’t count the $19.8 million they have in dead cap hit to former Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Whitney Mercilus.

The free agent market still holds several linebackers that would provide an immediate upgrade to the players Caserio has worked hard to resign.

But, it seems the Texans would rather double down on last year’s 30th ranked defense. (See: definition of insanity)

So much for “B” as the way to go.

That notion speaks to one of two things:

1) most of the available quality free agents refuse to talk to the Houston Texans because they don’t want to play in this dumpster fire of professional sports, or, 2) Caserio and his buddy Jack Easterby have no clue how to build a winning NFL team. Option B was expanded on thoroughly by our own Rivers McCown recently in his Culture Ball post (emphasis on the “Cult” part added for this writing).

Several years ago, when the Houston Texans hit the off-season, loaded with a tremendous amount of cap space, good draft picks and tons of hope, Brian Gaine and Bill O’Brien rapidly [Kitten’ed] the bed and set this franchise back years. Now that people from that same school of thought (re: ex- New England Patriots) are still calling the shots, it seems those years are stretching into a decade, or more...

Maybe, with the NFL’s newfound focus on diversity, with the last (only?) good GM this team had in Rick Smith playing a key role in that focus, Cal McNair should sell the team to a diverse new owner. One who not only doesn’t have the same cultural background as the McNairs, but lacks the same laziness and apathy when it comes to honoring the people of Houston with their professional sports franchise.

Maybe then we can all get back to loving our team, having hope for the Houston Texans’ future and not wondering why the team’s owner is more concerned with his Fortnite squadmates than who plays for his football team.