Last season the Houston Texans were able to rank first among NFL team defenses. As OTA’s start many people around the team have started to wonder if that dominance will carry into this year’s team with the loss of star cornerback A.J Bouye, veteran block-eating Vince Wilfork and the return of a perhaps rusty J.J Watt. With Mike Vrabel taking over as defensive coordinator my answer is yes and here’s my three reasons why.
1: – Mike Vrabel played in a successful 3-4 defense and knows how to run it: Coach Vrabel was a hot commodity when he chose to leave New England. He has a very creative defensive mind that’ll surely be used to put his extra touches to this defense. Also we cannot forget the coach that propelled this defense, Romeo Crennell, will still be apart of the team and those two working together spells success. When you talk about Vrabel you’re talking about a man with a linebackers mind which is key for the Texans. So much that Houston does is controlled by its linebacking core with Cushing and Clowney. One of the things that made Houston so good on defense last year is it’s front 7’s schemes. The Texans love to get their best players in one on one scenarios. I watched many games where guys like Cushing , Mercilus and Clowney would line up on the outside just to stunt inside after the down linemen hit the A gap. Those type of formations put a lot of pressure on the offensive line especially the nose and left tackles to pick a gap, which will lead to single coverage on somebody if the offense doesn’t keep the tight ends in to help block. Look for these defensive sets to continue as Houston brings back JJ Watt which at a minimum makes an offense keep someone assigned to him.
2: – Watt is back: Let’s keep it simple, at the 3 and even the 5 technique , Watt was one of the most disruptive players we’ve ever seen in the NFL. Let’s not forget we’re talking about a three time defensive player of the year. Watt missed 13 games last year so he essentially missed one season which means his body was able to have significant time off from the week to week pounding in the NFL. All of the interviews I’ve seen J.J do this offseason give me a strong sense that is ready to be back and physically ready to go. The best thing he does for Houston is bring them consistency. The Texans know that Watt gives 100% on every play and that will only fuel the defense to try and match his intensity.
3: – Clowney realized how good he could be:
The former first overall pick played like it last year. His first two seasons in the league were riddled by injuries but last year he was able to stay healthy and realize how good he could be. Six sacks, 17 quarterback hits to go along with 16 TFL’s in only 14 games. That stat line speaks volumes. With Jadaveon Clowney breaking out and Watt back, the offenses they will face have a huge question to answer. “Which way do we shift our line?”. When both of these players line up on the outsides, teams now HAVE to respect Clowney’s presence as a true backfield wrecker which means Houston’s defense could see some extra blockers in the backfield. If so that means less people for the secondary to cover which hopefully will make the effect of losing A.J Bouye minimal.
With plenty of veteran experience and leadership to go along with some young players, Houston’s defense shouldn’t suffer any drop off this year. Look for the Texans to stop the run at an extremely efficient level and give quarterbacks limited time to look downfield.