Reporting Paul Gallant
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Breaking news: A temporary lineup switch this weekend inspired a Hot Texans Take.
B-Straw was at a wedding this weekend. So for the first two hours of “B-Straw and Pauly-G” Saturday, I was joined by Super Bowl 37 champion Ellis Wyms. Wyms was third on the Bucs in sacks (5.5) during their 2003 title run, and even took down Rich Gannon once in the Super Bowl. Naturally, we discussed his championship in detail. And if you really think about it…that Bucs team and this Texans team have a lot of similarities:
ABOVE AVERAGE TO GOOD QUARTERBACKS: Brad Johnson/Matt Schaub
Think about it. Neither were flashy. And neither took over a game on a consistent basis. They may both be a bit conservative, but you never saw them toss a Romo-esque game-ending interception.
Wyms saw the similarities too:
“I don’t think Matt has a big arm. Brad didn’t have a big arm,” said Wyms. “I just think Texans fans gotta get used to how they’re going to win a championship. They’re not going to do it with Schaub throwing for 400 yards a game. I think [the key is] run first, play phenomenal defense, and Matt just can’t turn the ball over.”
That sounds an awful lot like a game manager. And to an extent they both are, as both commanded run first offenses. But both are above that level. Schaub has been under a lot of criticism, but he’s had his fair share of stellar performances (JAX last season, 527 yds, 5 TD, 2 INT), just like Brad Johnson (’02 v Vikings, 313 yds, 5 TD, 0 INT).
Outside of the 2000 Ravens, the ’02 Bucs were the best defense of this century. They had a dominant defensive front, led by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp (7.5 sacks) and defensive end Simeon Rice (15.5 sacks, 10 passes deflected, 6 FF). The linebacker corps featured Derrick Brooks, a dominant cover guy with 5 picks on the season. Hard-hitting safety John Lynch patrolled the deep, while Ronde Barber (2 INT, likely a result of 10 INT the year before) and Brian Kelly (8 INT) formed an impressive 1-2 corner punch.
The Texans may have stunk down the stretch on D, but when healthy, they’re among the league’s best. Injuries to Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph obviously hurt, but between a historic season from J.J. Watt, major strides from Kareem Jackson, and a safety position that received a big-time face lift this off-season (with Ed Reed and D.J. Swearinger now aboard), the potential is there for defensive dominance. Of course, they’ll have to find a better way to disguise that D against the passing attacks of the world.
“Hopefully a guy like Reed can alleviate some of those concerns,” said Ellis Wyms. “When you’re going up against a guy like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, you gotta be able to confuse them pre-snap. Pre-snap, they can’t know what defense you’re in. You gotta keep giving them different looks and make them hesitate a little bit. You have a dominant rusher in J.J. Watt. But he needs more than 3 seconds to get to the QB.”
The Bucs defense carried them to a championship in ’02. The Texans defense will likely have to do the same. They might not be as dominant as Tampa Bay’s defense was. Still, they certainly have potential.
CONSERVATIVE COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
Let’s go back to 2001 with the Bucs, the year before they won the Super Bowl. Tony Dungy was the head coach, and Tampa Bay had one of the most conservative offenses in the league. They didn’t like throwing the ball downfield, instead relying mostly on short passes to running backs like Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. The end result? A first round playoff loss to the Eagles (for the second straight season), and Dungy getting fired.
The next season, the Bucs brought Jon Gruden aboard. Wyms talked with me about the transition, which paid off with an immediate Super Bowl.
“The defensive staff was still in place,” said Wyms. “You’re talking about Monte Kiffin, you’re talking about Rod Marinelli, you’re talking about Mike Tomlin. And Gruden kind of let the defense do their thing. Gruden coached the offense, [and knew] we needed to not turn the ball over and score points in crucial situations. If Coach Dungy’s there and we have a serviceable offense, we’d have done the same thing. But that’s what Gruden was able to bring to the table.”
Flash forward to present day. The Texans offense under Gary Kubiak is pretty conservative and predictable. It’s stalled back to back years in the same round of the playoffs (though one of those can be pinned on the gaffes of a rookie QB). What happens if its three straight seasons of the same old same old ending? Could a new coach leading the offense provide the spark to get over the hump?
It worked for the Bucs. Maybe it’ll work for the Texans, who like those Bucs with Kiffin seem pretty confident in their defensive scheme under Wade Phillips. But we’ll cross the bridge when we get there.