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Texans’ Secondary Finds Second Wind in Johnathan Joseph

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J-Jo is turning back the clock in his 13th NFL season.

NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

For some, 13 is an unlucky number. Hallowed in mystery and ominous fortune, many shy away from anything related to the abhorred prime number. Whether true or not, there is something culturally poignant about 13.

For Texans’ cornerback Johnathan Joseph, 13 is the number of seasons he’s played in the league. For Joseph, 13 may not be so unlucky after all.

Part of the scotch tape that’s holding Houston’s defense together is Johnathan Joseph. Accumulating five passes defended and 16 tackles so far this season, Joseph is arguably playing the best ball we have seen in years. The main difference between this year and recent seasons prior is the ability to close on routes and break up passes. He did so midway through the third quarter against the Cowboys when he popped the ball in the air for a Justin Reid interception.

Blaine Gabbert said it best: “You know what you are going to get with Johnathan. Really fast man-to-man cover guy who can make plays on the ball.” That statement is the cornerstone of Joseph’s 13 year career. In year 13, with top-end speed in his rear view mirror, J-Jo has been relying on his knowledge of the game to pick his battles in coverage. When watching Joseph’s film over the past three or so games, everything has been consistent and reliable.

After a rather lackluster campaign last year, some were surprised when the Texans re-signed J-Jo to a two-year deal. In an offseason ripe with change at the secondary positions, the team stood firm in its tradition of a veteran secondary. Keeping Kareem Jackson and J-Jo while adding Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu only emphasized the team’s lack of concern about age in the secondary.

At the age of 34, the Texans are going to squeeze every ounce of football Joseph has out of him. Usually, running a horse past its prime does not win you any races, but put that horse on a team and in a position to lead, and it can be entertaining to watch.

Jonathan Joseph has been a leader on the team for quite some time. He arrived in 2011 as a free agent in the last major overhaul of the secondary and has been a pillar on the defense ever since. He has 14 interceptions while playing in Houston and has made countless critical plays throughout the seasons. With how much rosters turn over year over year, J-Jo has really been an unsung reliable centerpiece to this organization. With all the big names stealing the spotlight on this team, he has gone about his business for an incredible length of time. Although a terrible measurement to evaluate a player’s talent, Joseph has only been featured in the NFL’s “Top 100” once, back in 2012.

The man coverage that Joseph has provided in the past few games has been crucial to the success of Romeo Crennel’s defense. If he can lock down a team’s best receiver, that allows the rest of the more versatile defensive backs to flex their talents more often. Particularly against possession receivers, Joseph shines with his intuition and tenacity at the point of attack. Despite a lean frame, he rarely gets bodied out of position by bigger receivers.

We have seen faster receivers get under his skin, though. T.Y. Hilton types drive Joseph bananas with downfield crossing routes. In the preseason, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a dart to Olympic track star Marquise Goodwin. The raw speed players like Goodwin possess are not what Joseph handles best. Speed and distance are not his forte; toughness and positioning are.

The Texans’ secondary is thin. Injuries to Kevin Johnson, Aaron Colvin, Kayvon Webster, and Jermaine Kelly, as well as Andre Hal’s cancer diagnosis, have stripped the secondary of most of the expected talent going into the season.

Even with a patchwork secondary, the Texans are 19th in the league in passing yards allowed. Considering 104 of those yards came in two overtime games, they would be 14th in yards allowed otherwise. That’s from exceptional, but rather expected if you consider who is on our roster and the quarterbacks we’ve faced.

The wily veteran is playing at a level the Texans have missed from Joseph of late. He has put countless rookies under his wing and taught them how to play in the NFL. It’s great to see the Texans succeeding with Joseph. When put in the right position, he can still make plays even in his 13th season in the NFL.