The Bulls on Parade were a surprise to nearly everyone last year, but they’re not sneaking up on anyone this year.
If the defense continues to play up to this standard then they will go from historically bad two years ago to one of the best defenses in history. Continuing this pace is extremely unlikely however, considering they went from forcing four turnovers against the Dolphins to holding the Jaguars to a franchise low in yards gained at 117.
The individual players on the defense have all stepped up as well, some more so than others.
The defensive line can’t be mentioned without talking extensively about the unbelievable talent that J.J. Watt has become.
Whether you refer to him as “Mega-Watt,” “The Milk Man,” or his newest nickname “J.J. Swat,” he is an unstoppable force. He leads the team in sacks (3) and tied for second in the NFL in pass deflections (5). The players ahead of him in that category are all defensive backs. He also had the team’s one turnover last week against the Jags and of the three pass deflections he had in the first week against Miami, two led to interceptions.
Not only is Watt a phenomenal player he fits into the cast of characters that is the Texans defense as demonstrated by his new deflection dance. There are sack dances and touchdown dances but few players get enough pass deflections to justify choreographing a dance. Watt is one of those players however, as he unveiled his homage to the greatest shot-blocker of all time, Dikembe Mutombo with his classic finger wag.
Antonio “Ninja Assassin” Smith, Shaun Cody and Tim Jamison have also played well. Smith and Jamison have both recorded at least partial sacks this season and Shaun Cody has continued to be a solid nose tackle. The benefit that the Texans have over nearly all other 3-4 systems in the NFL is their defensive line. No team in the league has defensive ends as good as Houston, and if they are close they certainly don’t have the pass-rushing linebackers.
To add to the pass rush that Smith and Watt consistently bring the Texans have shown in the first two games that when the outside linebackers pin their ears back they make an unstoppable combination.
Brooks Reed had a sack that nearly resulted in a safety last week against the Jaguars and while Connor Barwin has yet to register his first sack the two of them should take advantage of bad offensive lines within the division.
Whitney Mercilus hasn’t found much playing time in the first two weeks but if he makes his way onto the field regularly and is able to keep Reed and Barwin rested it will serve all three of them well.
Brian Cushing has been his regular play-making self and constantly finds himself around the ball. He has registered an interception and on pass rushing situations finds himself in the quarterback’s face more often than not. He is the Texans leading tackler so far this year and that trend will more than likely continue.
To say that the play of the secondary has been outstanding would be an understatement.
Johnathan Joseph got his first interception of the year against Miami and is on his way to quite a few more. However, his real accomplishment can be seen in the number of incompletions he’s forced. He is one of the best man-coverage corners in the NFL and should be mentioned in the same sentence as Darrelle Revis and his 2011 free agent class counterpart, Nnamdi Asomugha.
Kareem Jackson has been great this year. He has shown significant growth in his ball skills and sticks with his man without committing penalties. Brice McCain has also played at his 2011 form as he showed sure tackling skills in the Miami game.
Glover Quin Jr. and Danieal Manning have also played great. Quin has shown good man-coverage skills and save for letting a punt bounce off of his helmet hasn’t committed any mistakes so far this year.
The Texans passing defense ranks first in the NFL and their rush defense is eighth.