By: Mike Meltser
To the shock of absolutely nobody, Wade Phillips has been hired as the new defensive coordinator of the Texans. This marks the third hire at that position for head coach Gary Kubiak, after the failed stints of Richard Smith and Frank Bush. Phillips has largely run a 3-4 defense during his numerous stops in the NFL, including the last three with the Falcons, Chargers, and Cowboys. Here are my thoughts on how the Texans fit a 3-4, after the jump.
Defensive line – The big question is how Mario Williams will fit into the new scheme. If you read the quotes from Kubiak and Phillips, they’ve clearly gone out of their way to point out that Mario will be fine, and they’ll find ways to use him. Wade compared him to Bruce Smith, who he coached with the Bills. Honestly, I don’t think this is an “ideal” fit, but Phillips is a good enough DC to play a hybrid system and use Mario in a variety of pass-rushing ways.
I’m also very intrigued by how Wade views players like Amobi Okoye, Antonio Smith, and Earl Mitchell. Okoye can rush from the 3-4 NT position on obviously passing downs, but can he play as a 3-4 DE on normal run downs? Smith expressed concerns to the media about playing in a 2-gap system, but it looks like Phillips will use more of a 1-gap style.
Mitchell was taken in the 3rd round last April, so the Texans have a decent amount invested in him. He’ll need to show more in 2011.
Linebackers – This is the area I think the Texans are actually fairly well-suited for the new 3-4 scheme. I love the combination of DeMeco Ryans and Darryl Sharpton inside. The former Miami LB had a very solid rookie season, and having Ryans back is crucial from a leadership standpoint.
One of the keys to a successful 3-4 is having explosive, hybrid type linebackers on the edge. I think you put Brian Cushing on the strong side, with plenty of chances to rush the passer. To me, Connor Barwin should be dancing in his house right now (assuming his broken leg is healed). Barwin’s edge ability and body frame are ideal for a 3-4 outside linebacker, and he’ll thrive next season.
I’m sure Wade Phillips will bring in some more linebackers, especially as depth.
Defensive Backs – As DeMeco told us last Thursday, the thing about a secondary is that regardless of scheme, you have to cover. Using a 3-4 will change your coverages somewhat, especially underneath with the 4 linebackers. However, the Texans need to add 3-5 players in the secondary going into 2011. We all saw the issues the team had in 2010.
Next season, I would use Kareem Jackson more aggressively, both in run support and in rushing the passer. Despite his struggles this past season (and there were plenty), he actually tackled pretty well for a rookie corner. Both from a scheme and personnel standpoint, I would bring in about 2 more cornerbacks and 2 extra safeties next season.