Houston Texans Defense Will Collapse in Year Two Under Wade Phillips

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistMarch 16, 2012

Wade won't be smiling in 2012
Wade won't be smiling in 2012Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last year, the Houston Texans were the surprise of the NFL. They went from having one of the worst defenses in the league to one of the most feared. All the credit went to one man: Wade Phillips.

It was no surprise Phillips was able to turn around the Texans so quickly. After all, he had done it before. If you want to make a bad defense good, hiring Wade Phillips is the way to do it.

There are dark clouds on the horizon for Texans fans, however, and they have nothing whatsoever to do with Mario Williams leaving. As good as Phillips is in year one, historically, his teams have been just as bad in year two.

In five of seven previous NFL jobs as either defensive coordinator or head coach, Wade Phillips-led defenses have shown serious regression in their second year.

The numbers are ugly:

Team Year Rank Points Change  Rank DVOA Change
NO 1981 24 -- -- --
NO 1982 8 +16 -- --
Phil 1986 12 -- -- --
Phil 1987 25 -13 -- --
Den 1989 1 -- -- --
Den 1990 23 -22 -- --
Buf 1995 12 -- 10 --
Buf 1996 6 +6 7 +3
Atl 2002 8 -- 12  --
Atl 2003 30 -22 28 -16
SD 2004 11  -- 12  --
SD 2005 13 -2 16 -4
Dal 2007 13  -- 11  --
Dal 2008 20 -7 9 +2

Phillips has a hard time building on first-year success. On multiple occasions his defenses have actually plummeted in year two. In both Denver and Atlanta, the defense dropped from being in the top 10 to the bottom 10 of the league in just one season. In both instances when his defenses improved in year two, they fell back in year three, notably dropping 17 spots in Buffalo in 1997.

Why does Phillips have a hard time maintaining success? I have some theories:

  • He's too lax. Players like him and respond to him, but he quickly loses their attention.
  • He's smart, but not meticulous. As a head coach, Phillips had a reputation for botching the details. He comes in and institutes a great system, but maintaining success requires a lot of focus that Phillips lacks.
  • It's just math. Defensive play is notoriously unstable from year to year, and teams that improve rapidly often regress to their true level. Phillips is just a victim of his success. It's only natural that his defense will fall back a bit.

Texans fans are sure to protest about all the reasons the Houston defense will be better next year. The problem is that the NFL just doesn't often work that way. Some teams manage consistent excellence year after year, but that tends to be the product of a long-standing scheme or philosophy. Phillips is the guy you want to build your defense and turn it around quickly. He's not the guy you want in the long run.

It's true some of the drops on the chart are not precipitous. There is probably some "noise" in the San Diego and Dallas numbers. Phillips went on to have better years after the drops, but then followed them up with some stinkers again.

The Texans are loaded with young talent, and it's certainly plausible they'll build on their 2011 success. If history is any indication, however, the visitors will be hanging more a lot more points on the Reliant Stadium scoreboard in 2012.