The Texans defense has many problems, and most of them don’t have quick fixes. Vince Wilfork isn’t getting any younger, the scars on Brian Cushing’s knees won’t disappear, and Andre Hal isn’t going to suddenly gain 15 pounds and 2 years of experience. There are a few things that could improve immediately, however. Several things I see along the defensive front (defensive line and outside linebackers) are driving me crazy. With a little bit of focus, they could be fixed in a week.
Stop forsaking the pass rush for a batted pass.
Batted passes are tremendous. We saw firsthand how much they can do for a team in 2012, when the Texans defense created a torrent of batted passes which led to squelched drives and turnovers. They can be problematic, though, once players start going after them at the expense of rushing the passer. This has been going on for awhile with the Texans. A guy will try to time blocking the pass by stopping his rushing completely and setting up for a jump. That’s all well and good when it works out, but if the quarterback holds the ball your pass rush is dead in the water. Whatever happened to good old fashion lust for violence? Keep those legs churning and hit that rich boy. You can bat the pass on the way there. Ultimately, this is up to the discretion of the player. Are you going for the batted pass because it’s the right time to do it, or are you quitting on your rush because your legs are tired? I’ll never fault J.J. Watt for doing it because he still produces as a pass rusher. The rest of the guys don’t get that pass.
Contain the quarterback.
Defensive lines always have to walk a fine line between aggression and conservatism. If they’re too aggressive, they forget their responsibilities and allow the quarterback to escape the pocket. Too conservative, and they end up with a quarterback planted comfortably within the pocket for interminable amounts of time. The Texans somehow accomplish both. There are times when they mount no pass rush at all, and there are times when a free rusher ends up chasing the QB to the sideline because nobody has bothered to play their contain responsibilities. This was never more obvious than in the Indianapolis game, when geriatric flu patient Matt Hasselbeck hurt the Texans outside the pocket. This usually boils down to one thing: selfishness. When you have too many guys that are worried about their stat line, the selfless tasks tend to remain undone.
Recognize screens and pursue like mad men.
Texans fans are understandably frustrated with the preponderance of screens we see from the offense on 3rd and long. Nothing more disheartening than a screen on third and long. The problem is that offensive coordinator George Godsey probably thinks it’s a good idea to call a screen on third and long because he sees so many examples of the Texans defense not defending screens at all. Much of this falls on the inside linebackers and secondary, but at least part of it falls on the pass rush. There comes a point in a screen play when the offensive linemen depart their pass blocking responsibilities to escort the intended receiver down the field. It is up to the defensive line and outside linebackers to recognize this, turn and sprint to the ball. We see very little of that from the Texans. It is startling the lack of awareness from guys who should know better. When the Seahawks won the Super Bowl two years ago, one of the most impressive things I saw in the game was how maniacal the defensive line was about getting to the sidelines or downfield on screens. It is a thankless and grueling chore, running downfield like that, but it pays huge dividends for the team, if not the individual.
And that’s the common factor in all these problems–how often are guys worried more about themselves than what’s best for the defense? How often are they taking the path of least resistance? These problems are fixable, but only if the players genuinely care about the success of the unit as much as their personal success. I’m not sure all of them do.