No matter how you sort last year’s stats, the Houston Texans’ defense was bad. They say everything is bigger in Texas, I guess that includes the amount of points & yards you allow the other team to rack up. Houston was 29th in points allowed (26.7ppg), which would have been higher had they not shut out the Titans 20-0 in week 12. Yes, you read that correctly. In total yards allowed they were 30th, giving up 377 yards a game, including a league-worst 267 a game through the air. It doesn’t take a football genius to know that you’re not going to win many games if you can’t stop the other team from scoring.
With that we had the exit of old defensive coordinator Frank Bush and entrance of Wade Phillips. With Phillips comes a change from a 4-3 defense to a new 3-4 scheme as reported by the Houston Chronicle. The center piece of the Texans defense, Mario Williams, appears set to be starting at outside linebacker this year instead of his usual defensive end position, which has raised more than a few questions around the league. The biggest question being: Why move your 2x Pro Bowl, 2x First Team All-Pro, single-season sack record holder to a position he’s unfamiliar with after already establishing his dominance at at another position?
The plan seems to be to use him in a position that mimics how the Cowboys use DeMarcus Ware. Phillips’ reason behind the change was quoted in the article as being:
“I think he’s the rush guy we need. You have to put him in the spot that gives him the best chance to rush the passer all the time and be your star rusher. He’s got the talent. With him standing up, he lines up a little wider, and he’s coming every time on a different angle. This gives him the chance to be the premier rusher, just like DeMarcus.”
If there’s anyone who would know DeMarcus Ware’s abilities it would be Phillips, who coached him in Dallas for over three years. If he’s seen enough of Williams to think he’s capable of playing a stand up outside rusher instead of a traditional pass rushing end I’m not going to argue with him. Williams seems to be on board with the proposed change, saying:
“I feel great about it. What an opportunity for me. Wade told me he’ll put me in the best position to make plays, and the biggest thing that got my attention was when he said, ‘Just go.’ He wants me to get after the quarterback 90 percent of the time. He said, ‘When the ball’s snapped, I want you to go, be fast and get the quarterback.”
Williams wouldn’t be the only one needing to get familiar with a new position. DeMeco Ryans won’t be roaming the middle by himself anymore. He’ll now be sharing the middle with Brian Cushing, who’ll be moving inside from his normal outside position. In looking at the defensive roster on paper, these are the Texans’ two best defensive players next to Williams. Cushing was Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler in 2009. Ryans made the Pro Bowl in 2007 & 2009 and was an All-Pro in 2007.
Charlie Casserly drafted both Williams & Ryans, and is now an analyst for CBS and the NFL Network. Dan Pompei from National Football Post asked Casserly what the thought about the change and his reaction was lukewarm at best:
“I have a lot of respect for Wade Phillips. He has a good feel for talent and how to use it. However I think their best players are Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. Mario has been to the Pro Bowl as a 4-3 defensive end and DeMeco Ryans has been to the Pro Bowl as a middle linebacker. You’re asking both to play new positions. It would have made more sense to me to stay in a 4-3 defense.”
If you subscribe to the theory “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” then then you would most likely believe that something needed to change for the Texans’ defense, because it was definitely broken last season. An offense that boasts Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson can score with anyone in the league, but it doesn’t matter if the other team is keeping up with them on the scoreboard.
After two straight .500 seasons in 2007 & 2008, and a 9-7 record in 2009, the Texans reverted back to old ways last season, going 6-10. The progress that had been made to reach respectable status had almost all been lost after many pegged them as a sleeper team possibly capable of knocking of the Colts. I understand the reason for the defensive coordinator change, but I’m not sure if this drastic of an overhaul is needed. Drastic times call for drastic measures I guess, and really there’s nowhere for the Texans to go in the defensive rankings but up. I’m not saying that Williams, Cushing, and Ryans aren’t capable of excelling in their new positions, because they are.
The problem could be as simple as they just don’t have the talent on defense around those three, which could explain why their first five and six of their eight total draft picks in last month’s draft were used on defensive players. Wade Phillips coached in Dallas for Jerry Jones for two seasons so he’s used to being under pressure and on the hot seat. He could very well be right back on it down Interstate 45 in Houston if this change doesn’t work out and opponents keep scoring on the Texans like they’re playing Madden 2011 on the rookie difficulty level.