Houston Texans: Pass rush remains biggest weakness heading into draft

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans still have glaring holes to address in their defense heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.

With the NFL free agency period slowing down and the draft fast arriving, the Houston Texans still have needs on the defensive side that need to be strengthened.  Texans have some positions that are long overdue to be upgraded, such as the edge rusher position after trading their former first overall pick in 2014, Jadeveon Clowney, to the Seattle Seahawks.

J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were viewed as the pass rusher tandem needed to move forward, but Watt’s accumulating injuries make that projection questionable down the road. Watt is still a solid player at his position, but the days are gone that the Houston Texans defense could ride his coattails into the playoffs. Watt just turned 31, and the Texans need to start looking for another pass rusher that can be groomed once he decides to hang it up.

Mercilus is an important defender in the Texans scheme of plans after they re-signed him to a four-year deal, but they will need more help at the edge rusher position to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Houston’s 31 sacks ranked tied 26th in league with the Cincinnati Bengals, who finished the season with a 2-14 record and the first overall pick in this draft.

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Poor pass-rushing production is a glaring issue for the defense; Texans ranked ninth overall in blitzing with 213 attempts, and it yielded very poor results in getting off the field. The defense finished 27th overall in allowing 346 first downs through the regular season. The Super Bowl championship team, Kansas City Chiefs, ranked 24th overall with allowing  344 first downs, but they relied heavily on Pat Mahomes II bailing them out on offense.

Houston tried a similar strategy with Deshaun Watson, but it failed in the playoffs as they ironically fell short to the Chiefs. Texans 24-0 lead in Arrowhead Stadium quickly evaporated with the defense unable to disrupt Mahomes consistently. In the AFC Divisional Championship game, the Texans notched only one sack compared to the Chiefs’ five sacks they got on Watson. The defense failed the Texans miserably as they allowed 51 points and seven straight touchdowns.

Head coach Bill O’Brien unequivocally remarked the offense would have to score at least 50 points to win the game. O’Brien knows the defense needs to be upgraded heading into next season. All of the Texans’ signings in free agency have been made on defense, except for Randall Cobb’s addition.

The Texans have several needs that will need to be addressed in their front seven. Clowney’s absence haunted the Texans last season with Watt’s injury sidelining him, and they could see a similar effect if they decide not to prioritize that position heading into next season.

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The defense needs to be improved as a collective unit, but the edge rusher position is one that should be at the top of the list heading into the draft.