Jonathan Greenard’s all-around game will make him a steady NFL EDGE

With their lone remaining third-round pick after the Duke Johnson/Jadeveon Clowney/Compensation Pick/Gareon Conley calculus unfolded, the Texans found themselves selecting a likely long-term Whitney Mercilus replacement in Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard.

Greenard was a three-star prospect out of Hiram, Georgia. He came out at 220 pounds, and ESPN Insider’s recruiting report on him mentioned that he “must add bulk to his long frame.” His first step and arm under moves were complimented, but ESPN’s anonymous scout noted that he must add other pass rush moves. Greenard had offers from five schools, but only two that weren’t in the second-tier of NCAA football: Louisville and Kentucky. Greenard was actually set to go with the Wildcats, but a delay in their acceptance of the commitment instead took him to Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Greenard would wind up transferring with him to Florida to play out his college career.

Greenard redshirted his first year, playing a bit role as a freshman before picking up 7.0 sacks as a sophomore for Louisville. He was injured against Alabama in the 2018 opener, a game that the Cardinals lost by 37 points en route to Bobby Petrino’s 2-10 firing. Greenard dislocated his wrist and tore several ligaments in it, describing his comeback with the Gators as having to “face [his] fears” to the AP.

Athletic Ability

This graph doesn’t really do a great job of explaining the entirety of Greenard’s status as an EDGE, but it’s better than comparing him to all defensive lineman as it does as a default. Compare Greenard to Mercilus and I think you see a very similar skillset minus the 40-yard dash:

That speed is a pretty big deal and part of the reason why, athletically speaking, Greenard wasn’t in the top tier of this draft. Greenard had an explosion index of negative-0.8 per Football Outsiders’ SackSEER modeling, putting him solidly in the bottom tier. SPARQ score has him in the 20th percentile of all NFL players as far as workout performances go.

So, again, as with the Blacklock pick, this is a bet on performance and skills over tools. Because the wrist injury is so prominently factored in scouting reports, I think there may also be a small chance the pick winds up working out better than expected because of putting that in the rearview mirror by another year.

Statistical Profile

Greenard finished his last two full seasons with 7.0 and 10.0 sacks respectively, and also produced plenty of tackles for loss. 2017’s Louisville defense was actually pretty weak as a group, mostly on an efficiency standpoint. They allowed a 45.7% success rate per Bill Connelly’s college stats, which was 106th in the nation. They had Lamar Jackson, though, so life was still a lot of fun. Greenard led the team in sacks and tackles for loss (15.5). The only other player on this defense you might have heard of is Jaire Alexander, who was a first-round Packers pick at cornerback. Greenard appears to have made his own highlight tape of his sophomore year.

Florida, on the other hand, finished with a top-10 SP+ defense in 2019, and they did so by limiting big plays on passing downs and finishing with a top-10 sack rate in the country. Eight different Gators had at least three sacks, but Greenard led the way with 9.5 (per Connelly) and 15.5 tackles for loss to go with 18.5 run stuffs. DB CJ Henderson was a first-round pick for the Gators in the 2020 draft.

Greenard finished his career as the best pass rusher on the team in each of his last two seasons, including one with a top-10 defense. He was regarded as a good run defender in each season and scored highly per Pro Football Focus’ grading system as well. On a pure production level, Greenard is probably the best pick the Texans made in the draft. But he was available in the third round because of that wrist injury and substandard athletic scores.

My interpretation of what Greenard put on tape: I’m surprised he wound up with as many sacks as he did

Expectations from the staff are important, and after defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver talked last week, we finally got some:

So essentially, Greenard wasn’t drafted only as a pass rusher, but for his all-around skill set on the EDGE. I think in the prism of those expectations, the pick makes more sense than as a pure pass rush pick.

Greenard is an extremely fun pass rusher to watch because he is cerebral. A lot of his pass-rush wins in the games where I watched him play were setting opponents up based on how he had been played on earlier snaps.

So I guess it should probably come as no surprise to you that, in doing an interview with Jordan Pun of Texans Unfiltered, he came off as very football savvy:

“It’s definitely like you say. I go into the snap, obviously knowing its about your opponent. If I see a guy who his kick step is slower, I’m gonna try and get off the ball use my slap, dip, rip and if he gives me an overset, I know I’m going inside. But if he continues to give me what I want, I’m going to stay with my move. I don’t want to switch and even if he’s giving me that slow kick step, I don’t want to, say I’m gonna use side sizzors, or try and beat him around the edge. I’m gonna stay with my decision and use my slap, dip, rip throughout that whole time, until he gives me something different. Now, if he gives me his chest, then of course, I’ll turn it into a bull rush. But it’s just a lot of things, of course I definitely go into it with a plan, but outside of that I just react and once that time comes and if he gives me something that I don’t want.

I think Greenard’s intelligence is the main influencer of his play. In the seven games I watched he was willing to make a lot of educated guesses about how snaps would unfold based on positioning. He would, as an edge contain player, win a lot of these gambles and that contributed to him being an incredible run defender.

I would go as far as to say that I think his play against the run is going to be his meal-ticket to getting on the field early. Watching Greenard pass rush is awkward. His spin move is slow enough that you’re surprised when it works. He gets good initial burst off the line and does a good job of reading the snap count, but I think too often on his pass-rush reps he doesn’t have much of a second gear or ability to redirect. He left a surprising amount of hurries or pressures without a sack, and I’m not even talking about just the plays around the edge where he gets redirected rather than bending:

This is, again, pretty much exactly what the workout numbers would tell you. Smart player to get to the numbers he got, but not exactly a burner. I think he’s going to need to improve his adjustments coming at a quarterback clean, though. Don’t get juked by Jake Fromm! Speaking of…

Another common criticism among scouts that I read was that he just didn’t perform well against top competition. I made it a point to seek out the Georgia tape because Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson were both first-round picks, and … yeah, I think that criticism is pretty spot-on. Fromm had all day in the pocket in that game, and the Bulldogs barely rushed for any real yardage. You could say that, in a close game, the inability to get to the quarterback was Florida’s undoing:

Greenard offers enough to satisfy Anthony Weaver’s desire for multiplicity, but don’t mistake him for some kind of genius coverage linebacker. He’s not going to move off-ball without issues or anything like that. He mainly played flat coverage, and he showed some aptitude for it but was not much of an underneath route-reader. He was better at reading the quarterback’s eyes, though there were a few plays where he glanced back at the route combo and knew he could take some extra depth.

Where does Greenard fit on to this team if he doesn’t develop more?

I think he’s got a real shot to unseat Brennan Scarlett outside on run downs early in his career. I would have said he had a real shot to win the role in camp, but I think at this point the rookies are behind the curve enough that it would be difficult for him to do that.

As a pass-rusher, I think his best trait for growth is his play with his hands. The wrist injury did seem to sap him of some power on some of his rushes, and, again, another year of that in the rearview may help. I don’t know that I’d ever project him to be a 10-sack-a-year guy. He might wind up there at his peak or something like that, catch the right schedule of tackles that he can okeydoke. But I think he’s probably more of a third-best rusher on a good defense barring big improvement.

Is it the pick I would have made?

You know what? Probably. I might have been tempted by Curtis Weaver of Boise State, but I don’t think he was any less athletically limited than Greenard is and I think Greenard is perhaps the more complete player with a better record of play against SEC competition. Zach Baun of Wisconsin is another guy that had my eye. That’s probably my best answer, but it’s not like pass-rush metrics loved him either.

Once you get past the first 50 picks of the draft, unless someone special falls to you, I think you have to look at things a little safer and ask: Who has the skill set to be on the team in four years? As much of a critic of Texans drafts as I usually am, I think Greenard is a solid answer to that question because of his well-rounded suite of abilities and playing intelligence. Just don’t be surprised if instead of a pass-rush superstar you wind up with a smarter version of Brooks Reed.


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Ross Blacklock’s suddenness will be his NFL meal ticket

When the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for the 40th overall pick, the initial thought was that there was a wide receiver they liked. That proved not to be the case, as they traded for Brandin Cooks and spent the pick on TCU’s Ross Blacklock, a wiry, penetrating defensive interior player from the Houston area. Blacklock was the 274th-ranked prospect on ESPN300’s list of high school prospects, and had offers from LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Miami. His listed recruiting weight of 326 pounds belied the player he’d become at TCU as he dropped a lot of weight, and a lot of the high school scouting report on Blacklock rings hollow because it talks about his pass rush as if it is something to be developed rather than a calling card. Blacklock weighed in at merely 290 pounds at the combine.

Athletic Ability

Simply put, where you stand on the pick is likely a reflection of how much emphasis you put on athletic testing. Most of the players with Blacklock’s statistical profile — steady but not spectacular — do not grow into better NFL players without underlying help from unused athleticism. As you can see from the charts and numbers, Blacklock’s testing is pretty unimpressive and casts him as a somewhat limited athlete. The only one of his athletic comps that I’d want to take with a second-round pick is Sharrif Floyd, who did much better at the combine but has a statistical profile that mirrored Blacklock’s.

It should be noted that of his athletic comps, we really didn’t see a lot of upper-level NFL production. Floyd had 9.5 sacks before his knees ended his career. Dominique Easley has 6.5 sacks and hasn’t played since 2018. Da’Ron Payne has seven in two seasons, but is more of a pure nose. I think the player the Texans would like to see Blacklock become is Geno Atkins — Atkins destroyed the combine, though.

Statistical profile

It is worth pointing out that while TCU on the whole had a pretty good defensive performance last year, there were games where they got mauled. One thing that pops out to me — because it popped out to me while watching Blacklock’s games — is that TCU wasn’t a great team against power runs. Their rushing success rate against power per Bill Connelly’s college stats was 72.4%, 68th in the country. Gary Patterson’s defense in 2019 played the front very well and dared you to beat them deep — opponents often did that, as TCU’s explosiveness allowed was one of the worst in the NCAA. TCU’s offense did not help matters either, as freshman Max Duggan started most of the year and completed just 53.4% of his passes — this despite having a first-round receiver in Jalen Reagor who wound up catching just 48.9% of his passes. That often put the defense into bad starting field position.

Blacklock finished 2019 with just 2.5 sacks, but 8 tackles for loss and 14 run stuffs — both the TFL and run stuff numbers are second-best on the team behind junior linebacker Garret Wallow. Blacklock did not play at all in 2018 after tearing his Achilles. TCU actually had a better defense that year, but they also had L.J. Collier and Ben Banogu, who would both go in the top 50 picks of the NFL Draft. In fact, six of the TCU’s top seven tacklers in 2018 were seniors — only Wallow returned. When Blacklock, Banogu, and Collier were all on the same squad in 2017, Blacklock had 6.5 tackles for loss and 10 run stuffs getting big playing time as a freshman, and TCU finished 11-3 with a top-20 NCAA defense.

To believe in Blacklock’s college production as being above-average or good you have to look at the hurries. Pro Football Focus settled on 48 pass pressures in two years as a starter. It should be noted that nearly every scouting report on Blacklock that I read pointed to TCU’s stunts as a big part of the package that got him to 48 pass pressures. Another important point of context, something that Blacklock brought up during his draft conference, is that Blacklock will get to attack a little more often in Anthony Weaver’s defense because Patterson’s defense often asked linemen to read a lot:

Pair those two things together and you have the true centering of the projection in this pick. Blacklock’s pass rush stats have to be seen through that prism and how the Houston braintrust believes they translate to an NFL defense.

My interpretation of what Blacklock put on tape: He’s a whirling dervish, but he’s also got a few flaws

Blacklock’s college production was mostly a combination of two factors: He has a ridiculous first step, and he’s good at reducing himself to avoid strong contact. This shows up against both the run and the pass. At times he can outright tunnel his way past double teams with the combination of the two things:

He did go for this fairly often when he senses the double coming in the games I watched, and does have some reps where he winds up on the ground because of it. I think he might draw some NFL holding calls on these sorts of gap-shooting plays though, he really is very quick off the ball:

As a run defender, I think he’s very reliant on these two things. He’s good at holding an outside gap, which is something I saw a lot of in the games I watched. He’s also a good hustle defender, who recovers downfield and sniffs out screens fairly well:

But last year he absolutely had some rough reps against power. He stalemates doubles at his best when he can’t split them, and oftentimes winds up giving ground on combo blocks and square-ups. I would be a little concerned about him as a run-down player right away as a 3-4 end. He’s going to deliver some big plays, but he’s also going to give ground when an NFL lineman gets an arm in his chest:

As a pass rusher, I found the criticism that TCU worked with stunts kind of overblown in a specific sense. I didn’t see a whole lot of benefit for him on the stunts in the games that I watched. More often than not, Blacklock was the one throwing a shoulder into somebody to free up a rush lane.

Blacklock’s main pass-rush move is the arm-over, which you see on a lot of his hurries. His lateral agility at the snap is the main impediment he forces on blockers. When Blacklock is on, his blockers look like they’re chasing ghosts for the first 30 frames of a play.

But what bore out in his stats and what I think mostly held up on reviewing the games that I did is that Blacklock isn’t some sort of dominant force against man-to-man blocking. He has a looping quality to some of his penetration that makes it hard for him to convert pressures to sacks. He doesn’t quite have the speed to bend an edge all by himself, and I can count on one hand how many pressures I saw as a result of spins or pure power moves. He wins right now with his first step, hands, lateral agility, and ability to reduce himself.

Did I take note of the fact that Anthony Weaver noted that he wanted some versatility in his players and go find the one snap I saw of Blacklock dropping in coverage? You bet I did:

Where does Blacklock fit on this team if he doesn’t develop more?

I think he and Charles Omenihu are probably best forecast as interior players on passing downs right now. Blacklock’s role sort of depends on what Weaver’s plan with J.J. Watt is — and if Watt’s body can cooperate with that plan — because if Watt is rushing inside on passing downs that changes a lot about how many snaps could be available here.

Blacklock’s anchor needs to improve to hang with NFL run-down players right now in my opinion. I don’t say that as a death sentence — I think a system where he gets to read less is probably going to help a lot. Just noting that I don’t know that he’s a plus-player on run downs right away and there is a small chance he won’t ever be.

I tend to agree with Bill O’Brien that rookies are going to have it rough this year as far as instant development goes. I think the rookies that are going to play well right away already have the traits and skills they need to do that. I would probably ballpark about 400-500 snaps for Blacklock in a 16-game season right now. To put that into context, D.J. Reader led the Texans defensive line with 621 last year.

Is it the pick I would have made?

Probably not. But I am more of a believer in the athletic data and college production, and I think I would have preferred Justin Madubuike or Jordan Elliott to Blacklock on those terms at the same position. If I were looking at a different position on the board at 40, and doing so with the knowledge that I’d be releasing Tashaun Gipson, I probably would have pulled the trigger on Antoine Winfield Jr. personally.

But at the same time, Blacklock is in the league of those other defensive linemen, and I don’t see the pick as a reach. I can see how you could believe he would develop further, and I can see looking at the Torn Achilles as something where he might have been held back a little in 2019. It’s a sensible pick if not the pick I would have made.

If I were to guesstimate Blacklock’s ceiling, I’d probably say he’s a secondary pass-rusher on a good defense, someone who finds 6-8 sacks a season from the inside while not giving much back on the run because of splash plays. I think to get there he’ll need to develop his pass-rush repertoire a little more and get a little more violent with his hands while finding enough anchor to hold up to NFL power.


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Our Psychology Today

It is easier than it has ever been in human history to believe whatever you want to believe.

With the rise of social media, anybody can present themselves as an expert. When there are countless numbers of experts and faux-experts, we can always find someone, somewhere, who can agree with any monstrous take we have about anything. Because people are better than ever at self-isolating or creating scenarios to avoid people they don’t care for, there’s even fewer reasons to believe anything besides what we want. When money flows towards presenting one interpretation, that interpretation can gain widespread appeal. Sometimes this is called public relations, sometimes it is called conspiracy theories. In finding takes we agree with, we develop our own little communities. Us against them. The tribe mentality becomes strong. There are very few repercussions to being wrong if you wield power or have privilege.

This matters a lot in many, many areas of life. Politics, gender relations, how much you want to care for the impoverished, etc.

An area where it shouldn’t really matter is sports.


I’m not surprised that titles like this have begun to hit YouTube, because I hear from these fans often. They often wind up calling you “not a real fan,” if you catch them on a bad day, and they’ll ask you to stop talking about their team. Sometimes they’ll dog your mentions for weeks if they think you are being too negative about their team. The way the world works now is that if you have enough time, you can spend all of it yelling at someone online who doesn’t have beliefs that mirror yours.

Part of being a fan is to attach some of your own self-worth to the team, so … I get it. Here’s how one good recent explanation I read said it:

A hardcore Seahawks fan identifies with the “Seahawks” social category and this forms part of his identity. (Yes, his social category is actually “Seahawks fans,” but really hardcore fans often don’t see it this way; they see themselves as part of the teams they root for.)

He applies favorable attributes to the Seahawks in order to enhance his own self-esteem. Because his identification with the Seahawks is a key part of his self-concept, positively evaluating the team allows him to evaluate himself more positively.

If someone says something negative about the Seahawks — true or not — he perceives it as a personal attack and a threat to his own sense of self worth.

In order to preserve his sense of self worth, the fan defends the Seahawks when he believes that others are attacking the team by a) fighting back and/or b) discrediting the attacker. Even if he knows that the other person is right in his criticism of the Seahawks, he’ll defend the team anyway because accepting that the other person is right would require him to accept that the Seahawks aren’t as great as he believes they are (and, consequently, neither is he since the Seahawks are a key part of his identity).

So it is natural for some fans to see Bill O’Brien trades get pissed on — because they’re objectively bad — and jump to the conclusion that their self-worth is being attacked. It’s not rational, but it’s natural. When you combine this with the public relations the Texans do — which, it should be said, I have no issues with. (It is in their best interests!) What happens is you create a group of “true fans” that have accumulated a ton of grievances and slights. It’s the driving force behind this post doing well when I put it up on Twitter:

A certain subgroup of fans likes to believe the Texans are overlooked, ignored, diminished. Especially by a national media that has regarded them as mostly irrelevant. (The national media in this case has never seen the Texans make even a conference title game, but I again want to note that this is not about rationality. These people want recognition in their own lives for something and it bleeds over into how they talk about their team.)


Let me give you some inside baseball here: If Bill O’Brien were actually good at scheming an offense, the Texans would be media darlings.

O’Brien’s rough-around-the-edges schtick is completely in right now. (Stares at White House.) There isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t want to cover a football team on the rise lead by a general manager/head coach that plays by his own rules and wins. I mean, we could lose the grandma glasses, maybe make him 20% more handsome or so, but otherwise it’s a dream come true. Readers right now gobble up anybody who is perceived to be a self-made genius because it fits into this bootstrap ethos that permeates a lot of our country.

Even right now, despite O’Brien’s failings, he’s compelling subject matter. Sports is an entertainment industry and I would argue that very few people in his sphere have created more entertainment than O’Brien has over the past nine months. How many coaches can you think of who have lead a f-bomb-laden tirade on a fan at a game — it comes out during the playoffs — and it doesn’t even crack the public consciousness of what they’ve done?

That’s the magic of being as unconventional at some aspects of your job as O’Brien is. There’s literally too much to talk about, so some areas of attack simply don’t stick to him because we only have so much we can collectively as a society pin on one person. (Suggestively nods head towards White House again.)

Nobody wants Bill O’Brien to fail. What we want is for the Texans to change. When I say that, what I’m saying is that as an entertainment industry, we want things to change one way or another because stagnant stories don’t sell. The Texans have been this semi-interesting team with All-Pro level talent for years, unable to become a real contender or do much beyond advance beyond the first round of the playoffs when they face a gimme opponent. It’s boring as hell!

One of my biggest gripes with O’Brien is something I brought up when I talked about how he is Shredder: He actually is a pretty damn good play caller when he tries! He is a tease. Between what happened with the offense he created in Watson’s rookie season, the Chiefs games last season, the Falcons game last season, the Titans game in 2018 … the Texans have proven that they can explode on anybody given the right coaching.

That coaching is inconsistent, and that inconsistency keeps the Texans mired in their old cycles, which is why the national media appears almost bored by them. If O’Brien comes out with a brand new bag in 2020, kills it, and the Texans put up a top-five offensive DVOA, media will be lining out the door to shake poms poms for them. People love winners. That’s why the Texans promote the hell out of every division championship as if they were game-changing triumphs instead of beating up on three teams that have mostly been desolate since Peyton Manning retired.

BOB probably won’t improve, because we have six years of evidence that says he’s incapable of recognizing that his way of offense doesn’t work. But if he did, there would be no shortage of praise.


In the sense that we all have agreed as a society to believe in whatever we want to believe, I have selected my audience already. I am here to provide for the people who are interested in rational Texans analysis and thought. I put in my work, do my process, set my expectations, and am happy to talk about being wrong if it comes to that. I don’t brag about hitting my shots, because I think you should act like you’ve been there before. I am happy to talk about wanting the Texans to draft Robert Quinn over J.J. Watt and Cordarrelle Patterson over DeAndre Hopkins. I don’t come at this from a place of ego where I need to be right to sustain something. In fact, the way I write about the Texans most of the time: I don’t actually want to be right. I would be thrilled if proven wrong on many things I write.

Here’s the thing, and I realize I’m appealing to logic instead of emotion so nothing will change: None of this shit matters. In 100 years, when Houston is a lake and every player this team has ever employed through 2020 is in the dirt, none of these takes will matter. Why the national media has slighted the Texans by not talking about them won’t matter, why the national media has slighted the Texans by talking about them not positively enough won’t matter. It’s all entertainment. When I was younger, I actually resisted writing about sports because I didn’t think it would have an impact on the world, just thinking about how irrelevant this all mostly is.

I have self-selected my audience, and if you are not part of it I am okay with that. I’m not going to be Pat. I’m not going to be Aaron (Wilson or Reiss). I’m not going to be Steph Stradley. I’m not going to be John McClain. I respect all those people, and I think it’s cool that fanbases have many different options on how they want to be informed. I’m not going to write about the Texans from a PR-friendly point of view at all times. I’m not going to write about them like they’re the scum of the earth either. I’m going to write about what I want. If you don’t enjoy that ride, nobody has made you get on. We’ll both be happier without you. You need to learn to be okay with that, too.

Listen, you can come at me all you want. I had to bury both my parents before I turned 26. I’ve been freelance in what is essentially a dying profession for nearly six years. I am a diehard New York Mets fan who could barely suck a pacifier when they last won a title. You think your ninth exclamation point or extremely creative variation of telling me to go fuck myself is going to be the breaking point for me? You think nobody has ever tried to make me sound like a fraud before? Go for it, man. You can’t do anything to me the world hasn’t already done.

But given that none of this really matters, if you come at me aggrieved, I am putting you right into the same sort of bin you put me into. I’ve muted funnier people than you.

And we will continue to exist as well as anything can when there is no shared knowledge: we will be two different groups of fans who each think our feelings matter more. A gaping void of wasted emotion.


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How the parable of Frank Bush applies to the 2020 Texans

In 2008, the Texans finished with the 13th-best offense DVOA and the 11th best-pass offense DVOA in the NFL. They reached the heights of 8-8 for the second consecutive season in the third year of the Gary Kubiak era. They did this despite Matt Schaub missing five games and despite the Texans never really filling out the offense with dominant players outside of Andre Johnson and, possibly depending on how you want to remember it, Owen Daniels. It was Duane Brown’s rookie season, and he was a sieve.

But the Texans had the offensive design down to where it didn’t matter all that much. They had a babyface named Kyle Shanahan running the show — you may remember him from such places as Super Bowls — and the Texans would only get better from there on offense. Instead, the problem the Texans had was that Kubiak’s hand-picked defensive coordinator, Richard Smith, was in over his head. The Texans finished 31st in defensive DVOA in 2006, 29th in 2007, and 29th again in 2008. This, despite picking Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006 in what was considered a pretty risky move at the time. The 2008 Texans started three high first-round picks on the defensive line: Williams, Amobi Okoye, and Travis Johnson. DeMeco Ryans was already a fixture at middle linebacker, and the team spent to bring in Jacques Reeves in free agency to give former first-rounder Dunta Robinson a running mate outside. The Texans still Texaned it up in some key areas: they refused to sign a good safety and spent the season in the wilderness that was Eugene Wilson, C.C. Brown, and Nick Ferguson. It was also the last starting role for a 3-4 end by the name of Anthony Weaver, who we’ll come back to in a bit.

The star level talent on that defense wasn’t bad between Ryans, Williams, and Robinson. The problem was that two first-rounders were on the verge of busting and the Texans didn’t do a whole lot to fix obvious problem areas. Zac Diles, bless his cost-efficient soul, started for this team for three years.


Once it was obvious Richard Smith had to be fired, Kubiak had a defining decision in his tenure. In fact, for many coaches in other cities with more scrutiny from ownership, it probably would have been a make-or-break decision.

Kubiak decided to tab Frank Bush, his linebackers coach, as the new defensive coordinator. Bush had no experience coordinating a defense on any level. The Texans did not even interview another candidate, and only asked for permission to interview Washington assistant Jerry Gray. (They were denied that permission.) “I just think we’ve got something started here. We don’t want to venture away from our 4-3 scheme and what we’re doing,” Kubiak told reporters.

Bush’s opening press conference was a barn burner. He wasn’t able to pinpoint one thing that the team would do differently outside of saying that they’d be a more attacking, aggressive defense. It was a press conference that spoke more to emotion than some sort of tactical shift. He was a man who sounded like he had the respect of his locker room, but that was about all you could say he had as far as public comments.

Despite that, the Texans rebounded to 20th in defensive DVOA in 2009. They drafted Brian Cushing in the first round, Glover Quin in the fourth round, and signed veteran Cardinals rusher Antonio Smith as a free agent. Bernard Pollard came in as a free agent and provided the team with some extremely rare (for this franchise) good play from a box safety. Cushing had one of the best defensive rookie seasons in recent NFL memory, picking off four balls, picking up four sacks, and getting 133 tackles. The overall talent level rose, they faced the 25th-hardest schedule by a defense in the NFL, and Bush’s offense capitalized (aggressively!) with 27 takeaways, a five takeaway increase from 2008 and more than the Texans had produced in any year of Richard Smith’s tenure.

That offseason, the Texans spent the 20th overall pick on Kareem Jackson after losing Dunta Robinson in free agency. And by that, we mean that he literally put “Pay Me, Rick!” on his shoes in the 2009 opener. The Texans spent three of their first four picks on defense yet again, with Darryl Sharpton and Earl Mitchell joining the fold.

One year after all that promise, the Texans came back in 2010 and forced a league-low 18 turnovers, finishing 31st in defensive DVOA. Frank Bush was let go. He has never coordinated another defense to this day.

The Texans hired known good coordinator Wade Phillips, drafted J.J. Watt in the first round, signed Johnathan Joseph, and immediately had a good defense for the first time in the history of their franchise.


New defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver still has not had a press availability, has not answered any questions at all about how the defense will be, but he is in roughly the same predicament that Bush faced. He was elevated to coordinator despite no coordinator experience, and — I need to emphasize again this is not a slam on the person — I think that should temper expectations about the Texans defense rather than raise them.

You can tie Houston’s defense under Romeo Crennel very neatly to their pass rush:

The hurry rate is mostly meaningless. When they create negative plays, they win. When they don’t, they’re bad.

Unlike Bush’s situation though, Weaver isn’t walking in to a situation with a lot of established star power and tons of help coming. If the Texans got a rookie of the year Cushing kind of performance out of someone new that they brought in, it would be a 99th-percentile outcome for whatever draft pick or free agent did it.

He’s also walking into a situation where the defense isn’t young. If you compare the two situations (no, I’m not posting an entire depth chart, I don’t want to hear whiny Twitter posts about where Jacob Martin or Charles Omenihu is) as far as their starting lineups, these Texans are much older.

The best days for this starting pass rush are behind them. J.J. Watt is an indomitable force and I will never count him out of a 10-sack season, but he hasn’t stayed healthy for three of the last four years. When he’s gone Whitney Mercilus doesn’t pick up sacks. That 2009 Texans team had two starters over 28 years old, of which you can say that only Antonio Smith was actually important. The 2019 Texans have five. And of the young players the Texans have, I would say only Justin Reid and Zach Cunningham (who is 26) have left a meaningful mark in the league to this point. Yes, they’ve got depth, they’ve got some young players that could bust out. But … that is promise, not known production.

(Isn’t it kinda eerie how comfortably Bradley Roby fits that Dunta Robinson role?)


The reason Weaver’s situation reminds me a lot of Bush’s is because both of them were in-house replacements of situations that had sort of fallen apart. I don’t think Weaver has had the same amount of support that Bush has had this offseason — partially because the entire concept of the draft was sent for Laremy Tunsil — but that takes us into the land of expectations.

No matter what Bush did, and no matter what Weaver does in his first season, there is a way to spin it as a win. Obviously if the Texans become a dominant defense, I’ll have looked back on writing this and laugh at myself a lot. But let’s say Weaver gets the Texans to roughly the finish they had in 2009. You know what was said a lot back then? Frank Bush “improved as the season went along.” He was a rookie coordinator just getting his footing for the first time. You can’t let his first season influence you, greatness is coming with a full offseason.

In other words, there were a lot of excuses about why things weren’t better. The expectations were set by the unit being rock bottom, so even a dead cat bounce caused by some good turnover luck and weak opposing quarterbacks could be spun as a positive. If Weaver’s defense is as bad as Romeo’s was last year? Well, it’s clearly a talent issue! You’ve got to let the coach get better talent on the defense so he can run it the way he wants to run it.

This is how the kind of wishful thinking I’m always railing on becomes a crutch for a team. It has been blatantly obvious for years that the Texans haven’t had a true No. 1 corner since Johnathan Joseph lost a step. It has been blatantly obvious for years that J.J. Watt should have been rushing inside more to get Clowney and Mercilus on the outside. It has been obvious for years that Romeo Crennel’s XX-and-long zone looks were getting dunked on. But if you’re in that cocoon, and you know only who you know, and you don’t come up for some fresh air, you’re just going to say “we think we can get this scheme fixed” and stay in that same comfortable rut. Belief is a powerful weapon in football, and it’s often used as a cudgel to stay the same regardless of results.

To reiterate: The only time in franchise history that the Texans ever had a dominant defense was when the head coach was forced to hire a defensive coordinator he wasn’t complete buddypals with. Belief is cheap and easily misplaced. Good results are a lot harder to come by.

I think the Texans need 16 games of Watt and a complete out-of-nowhere jump from someone to be a good defense next year. Either that, or Weaver needs to be a terrific defensive coordinator from the jump. It’s not an easy situation for him to come in with — but the good news is that Bill O’Brien believes in him.


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