The Bad – The Texans don’t have the line talent to overcome Watt’s loss. How well the coaches use the linebackers, particularly Jadeveon Clowney, to compensate until Watt is full speed is critical to early season expectations.
The defensive coaches were slow to adapt to personnel shortcomings last year and a slow start and two absolute drubbings were the result. Even assuming the coaches adapt quickly this year two foreseeable scenarios remain that could produce The Bad.
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If either Cushing or McKinney regress or are injured there’s no proven depth inside to pick-up the slack. That’s not to say their isn’t some inside talent, but it is hard to identify one 3-down linebacker among the reserves. The Texans play a lot of “nickel” and “dime” schemes (5 and 6 defensive backs) which make having two 3-down inside linebackers less important. Even so, if one of the starting inside linebackers goes down the Texans will be weaker up the middle.
Another issue that could cause the linebacker group to underperform is injury to either Mercilus or Clowney. The Texans have many looks planned for 2016 that use both these players. If either Mercilus or Clowney goes down the linebacker position group will still be good, but not good or versatile enough to compensate for a falloff in Watt’s performance.
The expectation for the linebacker position group is very high. The Bad scenario doesn’t mean the linebackers will do poorly, only that they will not be strong enough to overcome underperformance by another element of the defense.
Next: The Ugly