Houston, a fifth-year player who spent his first four years with the Oakland Raiders, was coming off a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2013. Most considered the 26-year-old a player on the rise, one who is equally adept against the run as he is rushing the passer.
Yet, through half a season, Houston has failed to live up to his billing. He didn’t pick up his first sack until the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Week 8 game against New England’s backup quarterback with the Bears down 25 points. He also has just 11 total tackles, which is 21st on the team.
Houston recently told fans to “eat dirt” following the Week 5 loss to the Packers and then yesterday, in the perfect end to a disappointing season, he tore his ACL celebrating his sack of Jimmy Garoppolo in a blowout loss.
Houston will be out for the rest of the season, which has many Bears fans cheering. Yet in reality, dropping him from the defensive line rotation will hurt the team in a number of ways.
First, Houston wasn’t having a completely ineffective season. He’s generated plenty of pressure, leading the team in QB hurries (15) and QB hits (10), per Pro Football Focus.
Second, Houston has positional versatility in his ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. With injuries continually pummeling Chicago’s defense, having a defender who is equally adept at multiple positions gives the team much-needed flexibility.
Third, Houston’s place in the starting lineup has limited the snaps of Willie Young. As one of the league leaders in sacks, that might appear to be a bad thing but in reality, Young is best served as a rotational defensive end. In the one game Young started this year, against the Packers three weeks ago, he failed to pick up a sack or a QB pressure, and in 15 starts for the Lions last year he tallied just 3.0 sacks.
Finally, Houston put four quality years on film with the Raiders. He’s a much better player than his statistics this year show and it was only a matter of time before he started impacting games in a positive manner.
Houston is expected to be out until at least training camp next year. Any setbacks in his recovery could carry over into the regular season and it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll have the same burst off his surgically repaired knee.
Emery today compared Houston’s recovery process to that of former Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins, who tore his ACL in Week 5 last year. That’s not a great comparison, as Collins was a shell of himself during training camp and could put no weight on his knee. Collins is currently a free agent.
The reality is that Houston, who made $9 million this year and is guaranteed $5.45 next season, may never again be the player he was in Oakland. His loss will be substantial, both on the field and in terms of his cap hit, which could make his stay in Chicago a short and disappointing one.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.