While everyone has been consumed with the pending firestorm at the quarterback position, you might have missed this: The Texans’ defense is really good, even without J.J. Watt.
Houston is one of the better defenses in the NFL this year, ranking at the top in total defense and second in pass defense. The Texans allow 306.5 total yards per game, and only 203.5 passing yards. But the Texans are average against the run, ranking 16th in the league with 103 running yards per game.
The success of the defense despite losing last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year is amazing. Watt dominated yearly since 2011 and seemed to be the main spark for the Texans last year. Houston is also missing last year’s first-round pick, cornerback Kevin Johnson for the year, as well as inside linebacker John Simon. But now, several players have had their moments to step up and get some shine since Watt’s season-ending back injury.
The Breakout Star
The biggest – and most obvious – reason for the defense’s strong play is Jadeveon Clowney. After hearing the word “bust” for the last two seasons, Clowney has proven that he is a very good player at the NFL level.
In the last two games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville, Clowney has been a beast on the defensive line. He was getting into the backfield to make big plays, whether it’s stuffing a run play or getting a big strip sack to turn the momentum in Houston’s favor against the Colts he made his presence felt.
Clowney was strong against the Jags on Sunday as well with five total tackles, including three tackles for loss, a sack and two hits on quarterback Blake Bortles. It paid off with his first Pro Bowl selection.
The linebackers have also played well in key spots for most of the season. Benardrick McKinney is among the team leaders in tackles, Whitney Mercilus has made a number of big plays throughout the season; and despite missing some games early in the season due to injury, Brian Cushing has been effective on the field as a team captain.
Mercilus leads the team with 5.5 sacks this season, with McKinney and Clowney each with five sacks each.
But if there is a unit that has played very well down the stretch, it’s the secondary. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson have both played well when healthy, but A.J. Bouye has been a very pleasant surprise as the third cornerback, while Quintin Demps has been steady at strong safety.
Much of the credit to the defense playing well is defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who has guided great defenses back in the day with the New England Patriots.
The season is coming down to the wire. It will be up to the defense to lead the way as Houston seeks its second straight division division title.