Scouting the Texans: Defense

Peyton Manning has been on a roll all season, despite the fact that the Colts haven't spent a lot of time running the ball. How will Indianapolis attack Houston's defense? Brad Keller takes a look.

Defensive Line:

Through ten games this season, Mario Williams has 29 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble.  Those numbers would be subpar for most right ends, but they are particularly low for someone of Williams' stature.

The Texans rarely blitz, preferring to stay in their base Cover 2 defense, so it is incumbent upon Williams to get to the quarterback.  Charlie Johnson has struggled at times this season and allowed Williams to get to Peyton Manning, but has been mostly solid.  He was able to block Williams without any help in the last matchup, so the coaches may want to have Joseph Addai, Tom Santi, or Gijon Robinson chip in, especially in passing situations.


Williams has been having a down year, especially by his high standards
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Left end Antonio Smith has been even less productive than Williams, but he did have the other sack of Manning in the Week 9 tilt.  Still, Ryan Diem should be able to handle him in the passing game and the Colts should have a fair amount of success running to Diem's side of the formation, as the Texans have yielded 4.66 yards per carry around right tackle and right end, and Indianapolis has only averaged 3.89 yards per carry to Diem's side of the field. 

Where Houston is vulnerable is in the middle of their defense, as tackles Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody are young players that are still trying to live up to their draft status.  Teams have averaged 5.99 yards per attempt on 61 carries up the middle against the Texans.

Week 9 was the last game Mike Pollak played at right guard and Kyle DeVan has performed very well alongside Jeff Saturday, and Ryan Lilja.  The Colts are averaging 4.64 yards per carry on a meager 36 attempts up the middle, though, and have only rushed the ball 216 times all season versus 408 pass attempts. 

The Texans have actually done fairly well in terms of run defense when they've played teams other than the Tennessee Titans.  Chris Johnson had another huge outing against Houston on Monday night, rushing for 151 yards.

Indianapolis doesn't need to have that kind of day running the ball in order to establish some kind of rhythm and balance.  They have not shown any interest in establishing that kind of rhythm thus far this season, but, eventually, they will have to develop the running game.  Sunday is another chance for them to try.

Manning has only been sacked eight times through ten games, but two of those sacks came against the Texans in Week 9.  In order to be successful against a Colts passing game that currently ranks first in the NFL, Houston will need to get at least that much heat on Manning on Sunday.  But, since blitzing Manning is an extraordinarily bad idea, the Texans don't blitz often, and Okoye and Cody are not very skilled at rushing the passer, the responsibility for sacking Manning falls on Williams and Smith.

They will be playing the parts of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis for Houston on Sunday and they need to deliver if they want to keep the score from getting away from them.

Linebackers:

Rookie strongside linebacker Brian Cushing is establishing himself as the player to avoid on the Texans defense.  Houston likes to use Cushing in a variety of ways and like to move him and DeMeco Ryans around in the formation.

Frequently, they will line up in the nickel defense, with only Ryans and Cushing, deploying five defensive backs, which may begin to explain some of their struggles against the run. 

They generally play their defense straight up, with seven men in the box, running a Cover 2 defense.  Cushing and Ryans, therefore, are required to cover a great deal of ground, both in run defense and pass defense.  They are aided by cornerback Jacques Reeves in the passing game and tend to patrol the middle of the field.

Both Cushing and Ryans are both active and athletic players with sound tackling technique that flow well to the football.  They go a long way in covering up the deficiencies of the Houston defensive tackles and backpedal well into their zones. 

Dallas Clark destroyed the Texans in Week 9 to the tune of 14 receptions for 119 yards.  They will seek to neutralize Clark with Cushing or Ryans bumping him off the line and staying with him in the short area of the field with safety help over the top.  Baltimore was successful shutting Clark down in Week 11, but they have the advantage of deploying four linebackers in their base defense instead of two.  Also, their linebackers are far more physical and rugged than Cushing and Ryans, so they were able to beat on Clark throughout the course of the game and wear him down a little.

With only two linebackers covering a lot of ground, Clark will have more room in which to operate.  He is too important to the passing game to have another one reception, three yard showing, so look for Manning to get him involved early, even if it is just with a quick slant, screen, or end around. 

Austin Collie was noticeably absent from the last Texans-Colts game, which is surprising given the cushion he had to work with.  If they Texans are able to shut Clark down, Collie needs to fill that void and take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the middle of the field.

Secondary:

Reggie Wayne will draw Dunta Robinson in what is a matchup of very skilled, athletic players.  Teams have averaged only 5.62 yards per attempt on Robinson in the deep passing game, but this is as a result of the fact that he gives his receiver a fairly generous cushion.


Robinson will have has hands full with Wayne
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Robinson has allowed only an average of 5.98 yards per attempt in the short passing game, but look for the Peyton Manning and the Colts to exploit the cushion that Robinson gives up much in the way that they exploited the amount of breathing room Jonathan Wilhite gave Wayne in Week 10.

On the other side of the field, Manning and Pierre Garcon need to run the slant-and-go at least once in the first quarter to loosen up Glover Quin.  Quin has allowed an average of 11.56 yards per attempt to the deep area of the field on his side, but only 4.69 yards per attempt in the short area of the field.  This is as a result of the fact that he tends to press receivers at the line, so Garcon needs to beat that press, fake the slant, and get deep, where Quin has difficulty turning his hips and running with the receiver.  Eugene Wilson, the safety to that side of the field, is a capable player that is familiar with the tenets of the Cover 2, but he often tries to do too much, tries to read the quarterback's eyes, and tries to jump the route, which also augers well for sluggo. 

In order for them to be effective in the passing game, they need to distribute the ball equally and have success with that distribution.

Ultimately, this is a talented but flawed defense.  It is up to Manning and the Colts to expose those flaws with a balanced attack that converts when it reaches the red zone.  Chances are good that Houston will be able to score points on the Indianapolis defense, just as the Patriots did in Week 10 and the Ravens should have been able to do in Week 11.

The Colts have slipped the noose four straight weeks and face another tough challenge in Week 12.  They need to play sharper and more efficiently if they are to keep the streak alive.


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