The Good, Bad and Ugly – The second level of the Texans defense, the linebackers, could be exceptional in 2016. They could also be very average if injuries cause their depth to play a prominent role. Good health is important for any position group, but it is especially important for the Texans linebackers.
Injuries happen, but a position group’s depth requires extra scrutiny when two top performers have an injury history. Jadeveon Clowney suffered significant injuries in his first two NFL seasons, and Brian Cushing suffered two devastating knee injuries in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Cushing was adequate at best in 2014, but looked much better as the 2015 season progressed. Having three proven outside linebackers, John Simon, Whitney Mercilus and Clowney, provides some security, but there is little proven depth inside.
J. J. Watt’s back surgery puts extra pressure on the linebackers who must compensate for the missing pass rush until Watt is fully recovered. My 10-6 prediction included the expectation that the five proven linebackers, Clowney, Cushing, Whitney Mercilus, John Simon and Benardrick McKinney, would repeat their 2015 performances. Now, until Watt returns to full speed, they must exceed expectations if the overall defense is to play as projected.
If there is a silver lining, Watt’s injury could motivate the linebacker group to elevate their game. By meeting the early season challenge and making high level attacking play their norm the linebackers could lead this defense deep into the playoffs. If they stay healthy this group has the talent to exceed my early season expectation, but the lack of depth means there is also a big potential downside.
Next: The Good