The only AFC South team to win in Week 1, the Houston Texans played a great game of football against the Chicago Bears.
On Sunday Houston took care of business 23-14 at home. Brock Osweiller and Lamar Miller both played well in their debuts, DeAndre Hopkins was the usual standard of quality, and Will Fuller was big on splash plays.
But beyond any of these players, it’s the Texans’ defensive line that should be the real story here.
Much of the talk about the group was on top defensive end J.J. Watt, who underwent back surgery but incredibly played most of the game. A few expected the Texans to struggle on defense as a result.
As of this writing, that’s not happening. The front 7 recorded 5 sacks, 8 tackles for a loss, 4 pass deflections, and 13 quarterback hits. While the secondary as a whole isn’t great, the front 7 is, and they actually played better than the box score stats already suggested.
It’s not just Watt that deserves credit though. Jadeveon Clowney is a pressure inducing machine when healthy, as displayed in the two GIFs above. Clowney does not record the sacks on these plays, but his presence is felt as he is able to provide pressure to quarterback Jay Cutler. Clowney is a gifted linebacker, able to induce pressure from the get go with his size and speed.
Another trait Clowney has as an outside linebacker is the ability to keep his eyes on the quarterback even when the opportunity isn’t immediately there. On the above GIF, Clowney does so, and eventually pushes his guy off and is able to force Cutler out of bounds for a partial loss on 3rd and 11.
Finally, Clowney’s footwork is really good. On this play, Chicago’s left tackle initially pushes the linebacker out of reach, but #90, again keeping his eyes on Cutler, uses his athleticism and feet to get after the quarterback and create the quarterback hit. Fellow linebacker Benardrick McKinney also does a great job of getting to the quarterback on the left side as well.
John Simon (#51) also deserves credit for his performance Sunday. A former draft pick by the Ravens in 2012, he was claimed off waivers by the Texans in 2014. It appears that his value has been put to good use. He has excellent feet and elusiveness, allowing him to fake out defenders and get to the quarterback easier. On the 2 above plays, he demonstrates his abilities perfectly. The first GIF is a beautiful sack where Simon is able to find his way around the protection and into a hole. The 2nd GIF offers the same situation, and while this time he doesn’t record the sack, Simon’s pressure forces a throwaway by Cutler.
While Watt was rusty and struggled throughout the game, he still provided a reminder of what he is when at his best (and healthiest). In the 2nd GIF, Watt gets around not one, but two defenders with relative ease, nearly collapsing on Cutler in the process.
The Bears offensive line struggled to provide adequate protection for much of the game (with a few moments of great protection), but the play calling by Houston was nevertheless quality. Here, the Texans send a double blitz combo of McKinney and Max Bollough. No one sees Bollough because he’s hidden very well, and as a result Cutler gets double the pressure on this play.
The front 7 is well disciplined. The vision is great and they understand when opportunities for holes will be created. In the first GIF, John Simon again shows off his awareness and athletic ability to create more pressure. In the 2nd GIF, Whitney Mercilus is able to keep his eyes on the defender and create a sack, but Clowney also makes his presence felt in the middle of the screen. In the 3rd GIF, McKinney shows off great footwork, as he eludes around to a hole and delivers a big hit on Cutler.
You get the idea at this point, but take a look at all 4 of these GIFs and the rushers that got to Cutler to provide pressure. The final GIF could sum up the Texans’ front 7 in general, with Watt, Clowney, and Simon all providing excellent pressure.
It’s hard to say if the Texans will create *this much* pressure against better offensive lines, but the front 7 is stacked. The talents of Watt and Clowney are obvious, but the talents of guys like Simon, McKinney, and Bollough shine through. Romeo Crennell and Mike Vrabel did a great job calling plays for the line, and this unit will be huge for the Texans this year because of the athleticism up front. Even without veteran Brian Cushing and a fully healthy J.J. Watt, the Texans line excited and took full advantage of the Bears offensive line.
It’s a unit that was fun to watch against Chicago, and will continue to be fun to watch in the impending future.
(Featured image via draftmanager.com. Stats via espn.com)