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The Value of Things: Gaming the Defensive Line

Is a prominent recent draft pick on the bubble?

Seattle Seahawks v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Watching different sports brings it all back. Roster construction is one of the most challenging parts of coaching. This is particularly true when you don’t have a specific limit to your roster. One of the things I was good at was finding a way to get as many different kids on the floor in any one game. It meant mixing and matching to put as many kids into positions they could succeed in as possible.

My biggest weakness was in saying no. I often carried kids I didn’t need to on the roster. Telling someone they weren’t good enough to make the team was never a pleasant experience. However, it is something I learned the hard way. If you don’t cut someone that is destined not to play then it ends up biting you in the butt later on. They start to grumble and it can spill over into the entire team. I’ve had to throw only a few players off the team over the years. They were almost universally a part of that group.

If we translate this into football then we would have to say that anyone that is a part of a position group needs to offer something. They should be able to help the team in running situations, passing situations, or both. If they can’t do that then they need to have the potential to do that if they can find a way to improve. The hard question comes in how long a player really needs to show that they can improve.

2021 numbers

As we did with the other positions, we will look at players that played 100 or more snaps last season. We will look at their overall PFF scores, their scores against the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher. A 60 score usually indicates a league average performance. Most players are not significantly above average in every category, so we should be looking for a platoon advantage at most of the spots.

Jacob Martin— 698 snaps, 67.3 PFF, 58.3 vs. run, 59.0 coverage, 69.9 blitz

Maliek Collins— 629 snaps, 64.0 PFF, 61.8 vs. run, 66.7 coverage, 71.0 blitz

Roy Lopez— 501 snaps, 55.7 PFF, 56.3 vs. run, 59.5 coverage, 53,0 blitz

Demarcus Walker— 456 snaps, 61.2 PFF, 57.8 vs, run, 56.7 coverage, 64.4 blitz

Ross Blacklock— 455 snaps, 50.4 PFF, 39.0 vs run, 64.5 coverage, 66.4 blitz

Jonathan Greenard— 413 snaps, 82.9 PFF, 61.5 vs. run, 61.0 coverage, 89.2 blitz

Jaleel Johnson— 322 snaps, 44.9 PFF, 35.9 vs. run, 74.6 coverage, 61.9 blitz

Jordan Jenkins— 282 snaps, 49.2 PFF, 42.1 vs. run, 67.4 coverage, 55.0 blitz

Derek Rivers— 143 snaps, 56.0 PFF, 63.5 vs, run, 60.0 coverage, 51.0 blitz

So, many of these guys are not back this year. Jacob Martin signed with the Jets for more money than Houston could offer. The others (Demarcus Walker, Jaleel Johnson, Jordan Jenkins, and Derek Rivers) were invited to leave. If we notice anything in common, it is that few of these guys were able to defend the run well. Not surprisingly, the Texans were dead ass last in preventing the run.

2022 Numbers

Rasheem Green— 847 snaps, 50.2 PFF, 55.2 vs. run, 48.6 coverage, 51.3 blitz

Maliek Collins— 629 snaps, 64.0 PFF, 61.8 vs. run, 66.7 coverage, 71.0 blitz

Jerry Hughes— 624 snaps, 70.7 PFF, 54.9 vs. run, 52.3 coverage, 81.2 blitz

Mario Addison— 539 snaps, 60.8 PFF, 53.3 vs. run, 66.3 coverage, 64.2 blitz

Roy Lopez— 501 snaps, 55.7 PFF, 56.3 vs. run, 59.5 coverage, 53.0 blitz

Ross Blacklock— 455 snaps, 5nia0.4 PFF, 39.0 vs. run, 64.5 coverage, 66.4 blitz

Jonathan Greenard— 413 snaps, 82.9 PFF, 61.5 vs. run, 61.0 coverage, 89.2 blitz

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo— 314 snaps, 79.5 PFF, 75.6 vs. run, 63.8 coverage, 75.3 blitz

Of course, these numbers may not mean much and that is particularly true of the players in bold (the new guys). Perhaps Lovie’s defense will ask them to do something different that could make them more or less effective. Perhaps being next to different players will unlock some production for some of these guys. All that being said, the only move that doesn’t make much sense is the addition of Green.

Who knows, maybe playing him less often will allow him to be more efficient. Yet, looking at at his numbers across the board leave you underwhelmed. Setting him aside, the exciting thing is that the if these numbers are to be taken at face value then the Texans can employ a four man defensive line where every player has at least an above average pass rushing grade.

Okoronkwo in particular is an intriguing guy to have, He has only played part-time, but he could be a first and second down guy and then vacate for someone like Hughes or Addison on third down. That would give you three defensive lineman that are above average against the run and we could easily envision Lopez developing into an average defender on first and second down. That leaves Thomas Booker to compete with Blacklock for playing time.

What’s Missing?

Assembling a good position group is a lot like putting together a puzzle. The Texans knew this rebuild was going to have to be done over a few years. Sure, the extra draft capital from the Deshaun Watson trade helps, but expecting a 100 percent turnaround is just not horribly realistic. We saw them add three prominent players to the secondary. They are probably one or two players short there. We looked at the linebacking corps and we noticed that they are probably two or three players short there.

The problem at defensive line is that you are still incredibly young at defensive tackle. Roy Lopez showed some flashes last season, but flashes aren’t good enough to win. Ross Blacklock was absolutely brutal his rookie season (30.2 PFF grade) so clearing the 50 barrier is somewhat encouraging. Yet, if he doesn’t take the next step he will be on his way out the door. Booker may or may not contribute anything. Someone like a D.J. Reader would go a long way to giving this unit well-rounded play against the run and the pass. Gee, I wish we had someone like that.

That guy may have been Jordan Davis in the draft, but the team chose to fix the interior of the offensive line instead. We can’t get upset over assigning priorities like that. They just need to pick the right guys when they get those opportunities. A run stuffing tackle can be moved to the 2023 agenda.