The Houston Texans made a bold move that doesn’t happen very much in the NFL; they didn’t hire a Defensive Coordinator, like at all. The Texans internally promoted Lovie Smith to head coach after the Brian Flores fiasco, and Houston announced Smith would also serve as the defensive coordinator along with consuming all the duties as a head coach.
The move was a bit head scratching at the time, and pretty uncommon although not unheard of. Lovie Smith said during his introductory press conference as the new Texans Head Coach that he would call plays on defense and that he would most likely bypass hiring a different designated Defensive Coordinator.
Lovie Smith certainly has the pedigree to call the plays on defense. The Houston Texans are his 3rd stop as an NFL Head Coach, also having coached in Chicago for 8 years and in Tampa Bay for 2 years. In both of the other head coaching stints, he had a Defensive Coordinator on the staff. He also coached in the college ranks for Illinois from 2016-2020 before returning to the NFL to be the Defensive Coordinator for the Houston Texans in 2021. He was named the Coach of the Year in 2005 after improving the Chicago Bears by 6 wins more than the previous season.
Lovie Smith has a decorated career as a defensive coach in the NFL, but 2021 wouldn’t support that fact. The Houston Texans were graded 30th in total defense, #26th in run defense, and #32 in passing defense. They were also graded as the 2nd worst tackling team in the whole NFL (All stats via PFF). Everyone understands that the Texans didn’t, and still don’t, have much high caliber talent on defense, although Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley Jr. have flashed multiple times this season and seem like hits from Texans General Manager Nick Caserio.
With that being said, there were some positives to build off of following Lovie Smith’s year as the Defensive Coordinator. Houston ranked 10th in completion percentage allowed (63%) and 16th in opponent passing yards per game (212 YPG). Aside from statistics, he was a calming force despite all of the Deshaun Watson rumors that had plagued the Houston Texans for countless months. He was a steady face among a bunch of question marks surrounding the Texans, on and off the field.
Taking on Head Coaching duties such as managing a team and making sure everything is running smoothly is no easy task by itself, then you throw having to gameplan and execute a whole defensive scheme against an opponent that changes by the week? That’s a recipe for failure. And that’s exactly what has happened for the Houston Texans this season, they have been an abject failure, especially on defense.
They haven’t really improved in any statistical category despite having more talent (although it’s fair to question how much more talent) than last year’s roster. Their record is somehow worse this year than last year, despite going 4-13. It’s fair to question whether or not having a defensive coordinator would’ve helped get the most out of this young defense, or if having a coordinator would’ve taken some of the workload off of Lovie Smith and helped him to be a better, more focused Head Coach. If that had happened, this team might be looking at a better record than 1-7-1.
But all of those are hypotheticals, and I like to live in reality. The reality is that this defense stinks, and we won’t know the potential it has for at least another season.