The Houston Texans have one of the worst pass defenses in the league. They also have one of the worst secondaries.
But let’s examine their pass rush. Only Denver, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay (6 each) have fewer sacks than the Texans (11). I do think the pass coverage is a much bigger problem than the pass rush, but the guys going after the quarterback deserve some blame, too.
Although he was invisible this past week in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Mario Williams is an elite defensive end. He can do it all. Could he be capable of being more dominant on a week-to-week basis? Probably, to some degree, but he demands an awful lot of attention from opposing blocking schemes. Williams does have five sacks.
Antonio Smith is the starting left defensive end. Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody start at defensive tackle. Smith isn’t a standout and doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but I like him. He is a very solid base end who can get after the quarterback and might be best in this capacity inside on throwing downs. He isn’t dynamic, but he also isn’t the problem. Cody offers nothing, but Okoye has grown as a pass-rusher. Better days still could be ahead for Okoye.
The Texans did have a plan. They drafted Connor Barwin two years ago. Coming out of college, Barwin was extremely raw -- but also extremely talented. He was very moldable, particularly with his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. And he flashed in limited looks at this level. Year 2 could have been a breakout season for Barwin, even if it was a matter of him being just an edge player on passing downs while Smith moved inside. But Barwin is on injured reserve and is of no use to the team now. He might have been enough.
As for nondefensive linemen, Houston is short on quality blitzers. With middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans being lost for the season, the Texans are now weaker at two positions. Strongside linebacker Brian Cushing was moved to the middle. Cushing was a superb pass-rushing linebacker as a rookie. In his few games back from suspension, Cushing has yet to look like the player from a year ago. Maybe he is just knocking the rust off. Or maybe he was “enhanced” in 2009, which is why he was suspended. Still, having Cushing back in the flow could help matters, but surely he would be more effective rushing the passer from his old linebacker spot.
In conclusion, I don’t see a definitive answer to the Texans’ problem. Their secondary isn’t good enough to play on islands and be subjected to heavy blitz game plans. And I don’t see a guy in the group who is primed to step up as a complementary pass-rusher to Williams. But again, the men in coverage deserve more blame than those who attack the passer. In any event, Matt Schaub & Co. are going to have to score a lot of points.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.