There are miracle turnarounds.
Then there are those that are just ridiculous.
From what we are seeing from the 3-4 defense Wade Phillips has installed with the Texans, this extreme makeover falls under the latter. If so many of the names weren’t the same, you would swear the Texans completely gutted the unit that ranked 30th in overall defense and 32nd out of 32 NFL team in passing defense last season rather than just retooled it with a couple players, a more aggressive scheme and a fresh approach.
This season’s unit gets after the quarterback, hawks the ball and blankets opposing receiver like they never did last year under Frank Bush. Not surprisingly, the Texans are 6-3 for the first time in franchise history with direct aim at the team’s first ever playoff bid. Much of the credit has to go a much improved defense that jumped two spots this week to become the NFL’s No.1 overall defense.
If that don’t beat all.
“It’s been absolutely special to watch,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the remarkable turnaround. “It started opening day very good and it’s just continuously gotten better.”
It’s hard to imagine you will see a more dominating performance than the one the Texans put forth during Sunday’s 30-12 win over the Cleveland Browns. The Texans battered Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy unmercifully, took the ball away from the offensively-challenged Browns twice, held them to 10 first downs and most importantly limited them to just 172 totals yards of offense (Most of those yards came on a late-fourth quarter throw away drive that produced Cleveland’s only touchdown of the game).
Otherwise, the Texans gave very little letup to one of the worst offenses in the league.
It was the third straight game the Texans have held an opponent to under 200 yards of offense. That just doesn’t happen often in the NFL and it certainly is more than anyone could have expected out of this bunch so soon.
“I think I made the comment at the beginning of the season that if we could just get the defense up into the middle of the pack that it would be a great step forward,” Texans owner Bob McNair said Sunday before the new stats came out. “We have probably got the second or third best defense in the league.”
The Texans are holding opposing offenses to just 274 yards per game, 94.1 yards rushing and just 182.6 yards passing. That is in stark contrast to last season when teams passed at will on the Texans, who ranked 32nd against the pass (267.5 yards per game) and 30th overall (376.9).
To a man, the players give all the credit to Phillips, who is living up to his reputation as the master of the quick turnaround. It’s not just the scheme itself but the way he teaches it and puts players in position perform their best.
No one has benefitted more than Brian Cushing, who is playing like one of the best inside linebackers in the league right now.
“There has been a lot of hard work that’s been going into this year, especially with where we came from last year,” said Cushing, who leads the Texans in tackles as a punishing sideline to sideline hitter. “This defense is very motivated and just to have the opportunity to play under Coach Phillips and the way he has turned us around is just extraordinary.”
It’s even more remarkable when you consider the Texans have gotten better despite some key injuries. All Pro outside linebacker and sack master Mario Williams has been lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. So rookie Brooks Reed steps in and instead of missing a beat picks up right where Williams left off.
Reed has had at least a sack in every game he has started in place of Williams and Sunday came up with two huge hits on McCoy. We’re seeing a similar occurrence at the free safety spot where Troy Nolan has had to step in for injured key free agent pickup Danieal Manning.
Two such critical injuries would have derailed the Texans last season. But not so this season. It’s just plug in a youngster and keep it moving.
“I think we know it’s time to step up because we are trying to have a special season here,” said rookie defensive end J.J. Watt, who is also having an unbelievable season along the defensive front with the likes of nose tackle Shaun Cody and defensive end Antonio Smith. Obviously we would love to have those guys but we can’t. So the guys who are stepping in their place like Brooks are playing unbelievable.
“All we have to do is keep grinding because if we want to have the special year we looking for we just have t come to work every single day.”
But the Texans work is far from done as the AFC South leaders must continue to get better to push through to the playoffs. Things get a little tougher down the stretch Atlanta and Carolina both bringing in dynamic quarterbacks that could present some problems.
It’s hard to imagine the Texans defense performing much better than it already has, but Cushing believes it’s possible and will happen.
“It’s really up to us. I know we can,” he said. “I know there is still a lot of room for improvement. We just have to execute.”