The Defensive Unit as a Whole
As many people are already aware, the Texans do sport the number one defense in the NFL. In each of the last three Super Bowls, a team with that title was present. Not that Houston will have a homecoming party to the big show, but that statistic matters for a reason.
Both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos had elite-level quarterbacks leading their respective offensive units. Russell Wilson already has one Super Bowl ring in his young career. For Denver, Peyton Manning is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. Brock Osweiler has not shown the same level of capability of a Manning or Wilson. But they all had great running games and the number one defense in the NFL on their side.
The Houston Texans defense got demonstrably better following an embarrassing loss to Denver. The run defense was a huge factor. Rookie fifth round draft pick, DJ Reader, is a major factor alongside fellow rookie undrafted free agent Joel Heath. Watch those two players on film and you can see from week 8 and beyond, they hold the line of scrimmage in the run game and eat blockers allowing the second level of the defense to make plays on the ball carrier.
Little-known secret no longer, A.J. Bouye has been enjoying a breakout season after being called into action when second year rising star Kevin Johnson was sidelined for the remainder of the year. He is the fourth overall rated cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus since week 6. Johnson was the eighth overall rated cornerback before succumbing to injury. But Bouye has filled his shoes and then some.
The most remarkable thing about the unit as a whole is that they are doing this all without the three time defensive player of the year, J.J. Watt, and Kevin Johnson. Watt actually went down in the first matchup between the Patriots and Texans. The defense was pressed by three ugly turnovers, all on their own side of the fifty yard line. Two were inside of their own twenty five. Those factors all too often are too much to overcome for any team. That held true for Houston as they were blown out in an ugly game, 27-0. The positive takeaway is that Houston only surrendered 103 yards passing and they have progressed immensely in run defense.
The winning formula is out there.
Pressure Brady, disrupt his timing and throws while plugging up the gaps on LeGarrette Blount. The Texans have the capability to do just that, but it all comes down to execution.
From Clowney to Benardrick McKinney at middle linebacker, to a renaissance Brian Cushing, and strong safety help the Texans have a legitimate shot at having the defense carry them through the Foxborough nightmare.