New Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips seemed on a brink of gushing about his unit’s performance Monday night against the New York Jets.
But almost Wade caught himself.
After all, this was just the first preseason game and while Texans were impressive during their debut in Wade’s attack-mode 3-4 scheme, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“I thought we did a good job,” Wade said following the Texans come-from-behind 2016 win at Reliant Stadium. “We played hard and we made some mistakes obviously but we are looking for effort and assignments, making sure we didn’t have any mental errors.”
It’s unlikely the first glimpse of the Texans new defense will be remembered for the few breakdowns as much as it will be revered for the apparent improvement over last season. Wade’s aggressive scheme lived up to its reputation out the gate with the Texans recording seven sacks, which is just one shy of the four-game preseason total in 2010.
The Jets quarterbacks passed for just 251 yards and one touchdown against a unit that was last in the NFL in pass defense last season and 29th in points allowed.
“The 3-4 gives offenses troubles,” said linebacker Xavier Adibi. “You don’t know which side the blitz is coming from. You don’t know who’s coming and I think it showed tonight.”
With players seemingly coming from every direction, Texans could have easily had three or four more sacks out of the 16 quarterback pressures were it not for missed tackles. And to think that kind of production came from what the former Dallas Cowboys head coach calls his base defense. Those numbers can only get better as Phillips starts dialing up blitzes.
“I don’t know that you can expect that every ballgame but we expect to be able to rush the passer,” Phillips said. “We’ve worked hard on that, we have some guys with the talent to do that so hopefully it will keep up.”
There was so much attention given to the defense because of how drastically different it is than the 4-3 scheme Frank Bush employed. Virtually every player is playing a different position than last year with. All-Pro defensive end Mario Williams going from starting in a three-point stance to now standing and playing a pseudo linebacker role.
Williams didn’t always seem sure in his new role, but his presence almost certainly paved way for others to make big plays.
“I think he was comfortable,” Wade said. “We got him (the quarterback), he didn’t get him but we probably got him because they were sliding towards him a lot. But I thought he had a good outing. We will look at the tape, correct some mistakes and go from there.”
Connor Barwin, who is also making the same transition as Williams on the opposite side, said he likes the new transition.
“It felt real good, real natural,” said Barwin, who had two tackles during the limited snaps the starters took. “I really felt comfortable standing up.”
But the most encouraging performances came from of the younger defensive players who will be counted on this season. Adibi seemed to thrive since move from the outside to the inside, registering a team-high two sacks.
Both Jesse Nading and Bryan Braman, who are vying for the backup job behind Williams, had impressive performances. Braman led all defensive players with six tackles, including 1.5 sacks on the night. And then Nading came up with a fumble-causing sack on Jets backup quarterback Greg McElroy in the second quarter.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak seemed to come away pleased with what he saw in the first preseason game with a limited number of repetitions and practices due to the lockout.
“Jesse Nading stood out to me, Braman got there,” Kubiak said. “I just thought in general you could see the aggressive nature of the defense. We stayed away from giving up big plays.”