Reporting Mike Meltser
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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – It came as a surprise, not quite a shock, when the Texans traded longtime captain DeMeco Ryans to the Eagles in March for a pair of draft picks. Ryans simply made too much money in 2012 and 2013 for the team to carry. GM Rick Smith was looking at trying to re-sign the trio of Matt Schaub, Duane Brown, and Connor Barwin. From a salary cap standpoint, the move made plenty of sense. On the field, questions remain.
Ryans played mostly on first and second downs in the 2011 season. With the way the NFL is, Brian Cushing is the only inside linebacker the Texans ever use on 3rd downs. Still, a 3-4 defense needs productive run pluggers to battle between the tackles. To that end, Smith brought in veteran Bradie James in the offseason.
James has a ton of experience playing (in Dallas) for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, but he definitely slowed down in 2011. Under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, James saw less playing time while his tackle total slipped from 118 to only 44.
Can James be the answer as an early down run stopper? He had 4 tackles in Sunday’s Week 1 win against the Dolphins, but it certainly didn’t seem like he was flying all over the field. In coverage, James is a bit of a liability against most NFL tight ends. In total, Miami ran the ball 19 times for 79 yards, and those numbers are skewed downward given the fact that the game was a blowout in the second half. The scary thing is that this may not be a one-game blip. Even in the preseason, the Texans’ run defense looked a bit shaky against the 49ers and Saints.
Week 2 presents a possible tricky game at the Jaguars. Maurice Jones-Drew showed no worse for the wear on Sunday, running for 77 yards after missing all of training camp with his holdout. Reggie Bush had a strong 2011 season, but Jones-Drew has been a better and far consistent performer over the last 5 seasons. James is one of the key players whose task is to hold down the Jacksonville ground game on Sunday.
High expectations are the theme for the Texans team and defense this season. If the run defense continues to show signs of weakness, expect to see more of Tim Dobbins and Mister Alexander rotating at ILB. At some point this year, third-year veteran Darryl Sharpton could make his return. Until then, it’s up to James to show he can still hold down the fort in the front seven.