Oct 2, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. The Texans won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Unlike the Offense, most position groups on the Texans Defense are playing well. However, that cannot be said for some aspects of the first half special teams and coaching.
Defensive Line – What a difference one player makes. Without J. J. Watt the defensive line is struggling to hold its own. When a defensive line generates very little pass rush AND is consistently gashed by the run it puts tremendous pressure on the other groups. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening to the Texans.
In the first half Romeo Crennel and the defensive coaching staff did well developing game plans that mask the Texans d-line weakness. Consequently Jadeveon Clowney spends most of his time with his hand in the dirt. The Texans would be in big trouble without him. With Crennel’s schemes and Clowney playing down the linebackers and, especially the secondary, mostly compensated for the poor line play.
As with the offensive line, the problem is that the defensive line is not very talented. Vince Wilfork, a stud in his prime, is well beyond his peak years. D. J. Reader has potential, but his primary role in the first half was spelling Wilfork. No defensive end candidate has emerged.
Maybe Antonio Smith adds a little as he rounds into playing shape. Perhaps Christian Covington can become more consistent. It’s possible that Joel Heath has some upside. But none of these guys look like difference makers.
The ultimate solution is adding new talent and getting Watt back. Neither happens this year. Therefore the plan for the second half is much like the first. Scheme around the weak defensive line play relying on superior performance from the other position groups.
Sep 11, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) celebrate a sack during the second half against the Chicago Bears at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Linebackers and the secondary carried the defense.
Linebacker – The first half linebacker play was solid, but unspectacular. The defensive line weaknesses allowed too many offensive linemen to get to the second level. That contributed to the rushing defense issues. The pass rush was good, but unspectacular. It has to get better in the second half.
However, in the second half my big concern for the linebacker position group is a lack of depth. If Whitney Mercilus goes down the Texans are in trouble. The loss of Benardrick McKinney, John Simon or Brian Cushing causes almost as many problems. Sure, if Mercilus goes down Clowney can step in. But then how weak is the Texans defensive line?
The linebackers are good enough to dominate behind a quality defensive line. Even with the line issues linebacking was an important part of an overall strong first half defensive performance. If they can stay healthy they will be even better in the second half.
Secondary – The Texans secondary was the glue that held the defense together in the first half. The Texans regularly played five and six defensive backs in a variety of nickel and dime schemes. In spite of a somewhat inconsistent pass rush the secondary was excellent against the pass and supported well against the run.
In the second half the Texans will miss Kevin Johnson, but A. J. Bouye has come on strong. A healthy Lonnie Ballentine more than makes up for the loss of K. J. Dillon. The secondary is deep and talented. It should lead the Texans defense throughout the second half.
Special Teams and Coaching must improve to win the AFC South.
Special Teams – The Texans special teams were a mixed bag in the first half. Punting and kicking were good, kick-off coverage a little less so, but acceptable. However, punt coverage was spotty ranging from very good in some games to dangerously bad in others. It generally lacked consistency making every punt an adventure.
As Coach Larry Izzo has time to install his concepts and philosophies the coverage teams should improve. Keeping players healthy is another important part of gaining consistency. Look for a better overall performance from Texans coverage teams in the second half.
Coaching – The offensive coaches, specifically Bill O’Brien and George Godsey, have to trust the talent in the second half. They coached the first half as if they were managing the pedestrian quarterback carousel of past years with only a single receiver capable of making plays and very ordinary running backs. Dink and dunk. Don’t make mistakes. Keep things close and count on the defense.
If Brock Osweiler is the quarterback the Texans thought they signed, Lamar Miller is a race horse and Will Fuller and Braxton Miller along with DeAndre Hopkins are big plays waiting to happen then why is that not reflected in the game plan and the play calling. If the players are as touted they will flourish in an aggressive game plan. It’s time to find out if they can execute. Take the training wheels off. Let’s see what we have.
Talented players are stifled by predictable, overly conservative play calling. How many third and long draw plays does it take before it is clear that the play callers, not the players, are failing? How many four-yard passes will we throw on 3rd and seven before we trust talent enough to open things up?
We can’t lament receivers not getting open when defensive backs can sit on all the short routes because the Texans are overly conservative. I know, Osweiler was 4 for 24 on passes over 15 yards in one recent stretch. But if the coaches only call chunk plays when the game situation requires chunk plays any quarterback is going to struggle.
In a recent post I predicted a 3-5 second half. That’s what it will be if second half performances mirror the first. The record improves if players and coaches step-up. Pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Bill O’Brien, George Godsey, Brock Osweiler, DeAndre Hopkins and an undiscovered defensive lineman who has to come out of nowhere. Good luck Texans.