Outlining average defense is a lot more difficult than it appears. Totals can be really subjective. When teams are behind the opponent will usually run the ball. Therefore, the numbers will be skewed that way. Of course, the vice versa is true. However, if we include enough numbers and averages we can get an idea of where the Houston Texans and any other team are at.
DeMeco Ryans coached the number one defense in the NFL. If we look at the San Francisco 49ers numbers in comparison with the Texans we can also get an idea of what DeMeco might need to get the Texans defense on that level. We will look at overall defense, rushing defense, and passing defense.
Overall Defensive Numbers
We will start by simply going category by category with the Texans, 49ers, and the league average for each category, Once we have gone through all of the numbers then we can hopefully extrapolate some meaning from the numbers as it pertains to DeMeco Ryans and his defense.
Texans Total Yards: 6452 (30th)
49ers Total Yards: 5110 (2nd)
League Average: 5760.4
Texans Yards Per Play: 5.7 (25th)
49ers Yards Per Play: 5.0 (6th)
League Average: 5.4
Texans Forced Turnovers: 25 (10th)
49ers Forced Turnovers: 30 (2nd)
League Average: 22.2
Texans First Downs Allowed: 372 (31st)
49ers First Downs Allowed: 291 (2nd)
League Average: 333.3
Texans Forced Punts: 73 (11th)
49ers Forced Punts: 75 (8th)
League Average: 68.8
A number of commenters have pointed out that there are outside factors that impact these numbers that have nothing to do with the actual quality of the defense. They’ve made that point in particular on offense when looking at a quarterback. That’s the main reason why I didn’t include points allowed. Obviously, the more an offense can control the ball and the less they turn the ball over the fewer points a defense will surrender.
That’s why we should focus on numbers that are more isolated to the quality of the defense. The Texans allowed more first downs than every team but one. The 49ers allowed fewer than every team but one. You couldn’t be more different. Obviously, this is the greatest example of the quality of Ryans’ defense in San Francisco and the cesspool that was the Texans defense last season.
Texans Rushing Yards Allowed: 2894 (32nd)
49ers Rushing Yards Allowed: 1321 (2nd)
League Average: 2059.2
Texans Yards Per Attempt: 5.1 (29th)
49ers Yards Per Attempt: 3.4 (1st)
League Average: 4.5
Texans Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 25 (31st)
49ers Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 11 (8th)
League Average: 15.2
Texans Rushing First Downs Allowed: 150 (31st)
49ers Rushing First Downs Allowed: 77 (1st)
League Average: 115.2
I’m not really sure how indicative these numbers are of the quality of a defense. After all, it is a passing league, so pass defense might be more important in the grand scheme of things. That might be true especially when considering first downs allowed on the ground. What I do know is that getting your ass kicked on the ground is demoralizing and the Bears might be the only team that competed with the Texans for rushing futility.
In the year I was born (1973) the New England Patriots surrendered 2850 yards rushing. Granted, that was in 14 games versus 17 games. I get it. Only 13 teams in NFL history gained more yards in a season than the Texans surrendered in 2022. Four of those seasons came after 2000. They include the 2019 Ravens, 2020 Ravens, 2022 Bears, and 2006 Falcons. All of those teams had gifted running quarterbacks. The Texans are in that neighborhood defensively without having to face a running quarterback every week. In other words, it was really bad.
Texans Passing Yards Allowed: 3558 (11th)
49ers Passing Yards Allowed: 3789 (21st)
League Average: 3701.2
Texans Yards Per Attempt: 7.2 (22nd)
49ers Yards Per Attempt: 6.9 (13th)
League Average: 7.0
Texans Completion Percentage Allowed: 64.4 (17th)
49ers Completion Percentage Allowed: 65.5 (20th)
League Average: 64.2
Texans Quarterback Rating Against: 82.7 (6th)
49ers Quarterback Rating Against: 82.7 (5th)
League Average: 89.1
Texans Team Sacks: 39 (18th)
49ers Team Sacks: 44 (10th)
League Average: 40.5
We already covered turnovers in the overall category, but the 49ers did tie for the lead with 20 interceptions last year. That probably provides some context. The fact that the Texans finished in a tie for seventh with 16 is enlightening. It means that Lovie Smith and DeMeco Ryans are probably philosophically similar in their thoughts on pass defense. They wanted to prevent the deep ball and force an opposing quarterback to make numerous throws in a drive because they knew the likelihood of a mistake was higher.
That obviously becomes easier when you can provide consistent pressure on the quarterback. The 49ers were third in the NFL in quarterback hits and 10th in sacks. The Texans were 18th in sacks, but a woeful 28th in quarterback hits. Often times, a rushed throw is actually worse than a sack. A rushed throw can result in an interception and almost always results in an incompletion. All that being said, we can bag on Lovie Smith all we want, but his defense clearly defended the pass well even with all of the roster limitations. The Tampa Two defense might be outdated overall, but it still does some things well.
Putting It All Together
If we can pinpoint what the 49ers did well and what the Texans did poorly then you can guess which direction Ryans will go on defense. Clearly, teams were able to gash the Texans with the run. Looking at the passing stats in a vacuum are somewhat encouraging. The Texans frustrated quarterbacks and number of them played their worst games against the Texans. That can’t be a coincidence and yet we can’t ignore the fact that they didn’t have to pass the ball. They could have run it all day and it wouldn’t have mattered.
While safeties and corners can support in run defense, you don’t do a good job against the run without a strong front seven. The Texans have added Sheldon Rankins, Denzel Perryman, and Corey Littleton to bolster the front seven. They signed some other depth pieces up there as well, but it would make perfect sense for the Texans to focus on the front seven with the defensive selections in the draft.