Yesterday, I took a look at some statistics to note on the Houston Texans offense, and it is time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball today. J.J. Watt is obviously the big name on defense and for good reason, because he is the clear Defensive Player of the Year. However, the Texans also boast other talented players like Antoine Smith.
1. The Houston Texans have actually played slightly better in pass defense than against the run, and that’s largely because of the pass rush provided by guys like Connor Barwin, J.J. Watt, and Antonie Smith. The Texans are eighth in the league with an average of just 5.8 net yards per attempt allowed, while they are a solid ninth place in run defense with four yards per carry allowed.
2. The Texans have allowed five teams to throw for over 280 yards against them, and the Patriots are one of them. In fact, the Detroit Lions (419) and Jacksonville Jaguars (372) lit up the Texans defense with over 360 yards of passing. However, they have also held five teams to under 150 passing yards, including the Jags to just 52 with Blaine Gabbert at the helm in Week 2. The Indianapolis Colts (first time), Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals were the other casualties.
3. The Texans have allowed over 120 yards of rushing in four games, but they have also held opponents to under 70 yards of rushing in four other games. Overall, the defense has slid recently after being dominant during the early part of the year. After a great display against an incompetent Bengals squad last week (or so it seemed for Cincinnati on offense), the Texans will be hoping to improve upon that putrid MNF performance against New England.
4. J.J. Watt is tied with Kareem Jackson for the most pass deflections on the team with 16, which is just a ridiculous number. Jonathan Joseph is better than Jackson, but I actually think Jackson has been better this year due to some injuries for Joseph and due to Jackson’s improvement. As you can see, his ball skills are terrific. He leads the team with four picks and is the only player with at least three picks on the team.
5. Watt has forced four fumbles this season, and Tim Dobbins has recovered four. The Texans do an excellent job of generating fumbles, and that’s why they have a great +12 turnover differential despite having more picks forced than interceptions thrown. But with Dobbins out, there is a huge hole at middle linebacker. Bradie James and Barrett Ruud bring veteran leadership to the table, but both players are awful in run defense. That’s a weakness that Stevan Ridley, Ryan Wendell, and Logan Mankins will undoubtedly exploit.
6. The Texans love to blitz, but it does backfire on them if Connor Barwin and Whitney Mercilus can’t generate enough pressure on the outside. It goes beyond those two, though, because Wade Phillips likes to blitz multiple different players as well. As we saw against the Patriots and against the Colts in Week 17, the pressure has to come quickly and efficiently. Otherwise, quarterbacks like Tom Brady will rip apart the pass defense and beat them deep (the Texans are susceptible there). Barwin may only have three sacks this season compared to six from Mercilus, but he is a more consistent source of pressure. The big X-factor is Mercilus, because he is on-and-off sometimes as a rookie. He has plenty of potential, but his pressure comes in bunches. That sways sometimes, so the Texans need to hope that he has a big day against the Pats.
7. Overall, the Texans are third in the NFL in expected points added by the defense, which ranks behind the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. Houston’s defense was torn up by the Patriots, but they showed last week that the game against New England was something of an anomaly. However, that’s when looking at the season overall, because they finished the year with some awful performances. They had five straight poor games on defense to close the season, and those aforementioned breakdowns in coverage against Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford were embarrassing. But the Texans are determined to beat the Patriots, and they may have turned a corner by holding Cincinnati to just 13 points.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.