Sarah Barshop, ESPN Staff Writer 37d

New defensive coordinator likely first of many changes for Texans

HOUSTON -- In a move that kicks off what will likely be an offseason full of changes for the Houston Texans, the team is promoting Anthony Weaver to defensive coordinator to replace longtime NFL coach Romeo Crennel.

What does that mean for a team that won a wild-card game in the playoffs but also finished the 2019 regular season ranked 28th in yards allowed? Glad you asked.

Why are the Texans making this change now?

The Texans allowed 51 points in their divisional-round playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs after taking a 24-0 lead in the second quarter. After such a colossal collapse, it felt like somebody had to take the fall, and given coach Bill O'Brien’s newfound power and contract -- which has three years left on it -- it wasn't going to be him.

The Texans are not expected to hire a general manager to replace Brian Gaine, who was fired in June. Instead, they are expected to keep a front office-by-committee approach that effectively gives O'Brien a lot of say in personnel. O'Brien's right-hand man is executive vice president Jack Easterby, who joined Houston from the New England Patriots organization before the 2019 season.

Houston believes Weaver could be a future head coach and didn't want to lose him to another team that might have given him a chance as a coordinator. Regardless of whether Crennel decides to return to the coaching staff in some other capacity, the Texans think of Weaver in a similar way as they did Mike Vrabel, who was touted as an up-and-coming coach around the league before being hired as the Tennessee Titans' head coach the season after Houston promoted him to defensive coordinator.

Who is Anthony Weaver?

Weaver, 39, has been the Texans' defensive line coach since 2016. He has coached under Mike Pettine with the Cleveland Browns, Doug Marrone with the Buffalo Bills and Rex Ryan with the New York Jets. Ryan coached Weaver when the latter was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002.

Weaver has coached some big names since taking over in Houston, including J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. When Vrabel became the defensive coordinator in 2017, Clowney moved from the linebackers room to join the defensive linemen. Clowney then enjoyed the best seasons of his NFL career.

Weaver has also had a huge impact on nose tackle D.J. Reader's development. Reader, a fifth-round draft pick out of Clemson in 2016, was Pro Football Focus' sixth-ranked interior defender in 2019 and is in line for a big contract this offseason if Houston does not use the franchise tag on him.

Weaver's focus on technique has helped players improve and the Texans believe that will continue in his new role.

What other big changes are coming?

The Texans have already fired outside linebackers coach John Pagano, a move that was first reported by the Houston Chronicle. The Texans -- led by O'Brien and Easterby -- are still evaluating the coaching staff and more changes could be coming.

The Texans allowed an average of 388.3 yards per game in the regular season. They lost defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson to free agency, which led to constant shuffling in the secondary due to injuries and poor play.

The Texans' trade of Clowney to Seattle before the season also hurt their run defense, and Watt missed the second half of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle, significantly hurting the pass rush. Whitney Mercilus enjoyed a strong season, but his statistics without Watt on the field were dramatically worse. He had 5.5 sacks in the first half of the season but only two sacks after Week 8, when Watt was injured.

Reader is entering free agency and will be in high demand. The Texans are projected to have more than $40 million in cap space, but are handcuffed because quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy TunsilĀ are due to receive extensions that will make them among the highest-paid players at their positions. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph's future with the Texans is in question. The Texans are likely to rely on former first-rounders Gareon Conley, who was acquired in October for a third-round draft pick from Oakland, and Vernon Hargreaves, whom they claimed off waivers from the Buccaneers in November. Houston is also likely to lose cornerback Bradley Roby in free agency.

How will the defense be different under Weaver?

Weaver has never called plays, but he is regarded -- as both a player and a coach -- as someone who is aware of the big picture of how the defense operates.

The personnel will certainly be different, given the expiring contracts. Safety Jahleel Addae is also set to hit the open market after becoming a versatile player in the secondary. Given the lack of cap flexibility and draft-pick capital, Houston might have to look internally to fill holes or hope to find affordable value in free agency or hidden gems with late-round draft picks.

Much of the defense next season will depend on Watt's health. The unit was significantly better when its best pass-rusher was on the field, which helps cover up some of the deficiencies in the secondary.

The Texans' pass rush win rate in the first half of the season was 44.3%, which ranked 16th in the league. Without Watt after Week 8, it was 25.4%, which ranked 31st, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

A defense that was perennially among the league's best a few years ago now faces tough questions following a playoff exit that didn't inspire confidence.

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