One of my first articles for this site struck a nerve with Texans fans. In it, I argued that the Houston Texans were primed for a serious defensive regression in 2012, in part due to the coaching pattern of Wade Phillips.
Texans blogger Matt Campbell fired back at me today, questioning much of the reasoning and significance of my piece. As a result, a fabulous discussion broke out between Campbell, Steph Stradley (another Texans writer), Thomas Gower (of Football Outsiders) and myself on Twitter.
Because the discussion was so excellent and the points salient to a clean understanding of the Texans defense, I'm presenting them here now. The end result of our lengthy discussion was a passionate, well-reasoned discussion and mutual respect.
The following are Campbell's arguments for why the Texans won't regress in 2012:
- Campbell feels the loss of Mario Williams is minor giving his limited playing time.
- He feels a small dip in DVOA ranking would not merit the use of the word "collapse." Nor would he feel that a 10 spot drop in points per game ranking would be a collapse. He does worry about regression to a degree.
- He believes that as long as Johnathan Joseph stays healthy, the Texans can improve in 2012. Joseph is the key to the Texans' success.
- Most collapses under Phillips have been due to injuries. Phillips is no more or less stable than any other coach. When his teams were healthy, his defenses improved.
- He feels that any drop in points per game will be largely due to schedule, and that DVOA is a better metric.
- Rookies typically do well in Phillips' system.
My responses to Campbell are:
- I stand by my use of the word "collapse", but recognize why he feels it is too strong.
- I recognize that Phillips' bad years are largely due to external factors like injuries, but that is the nature of the NFL. His resume is not one that embodies stability. I assume there will be more instability for the Texans in 2012, simply because that tends to happen.
- Depth is now a bigger question than ever with the Texans, as losing Williams greatly compromises their ability to handle injuries.
- While there are systems that breed stability (especially in Pittsburgh and Baltimore), there's no evidence that stability is inherent to Phillips' coaching style.
- I feel that teams are more fragile than many realize, and one key injury can greatly disrupt a defense.
How will the Texans' defense do in 2012?
Stradley's points are:
- Defenses generally tend to be more volatile than offenses but the sample size is too small to draw negative conclusions about Phillips' coaching.
- There's some instability on offense through rest of AFC South for the Texans defense to possibly feast on.
- If "regression" means not being the number one defense in the NFL for most of the season, she agrees. If I predict a big fall off, she disagrees.
- She also feels that saying that Phillips is soft is unfair based on his training camps.
- Ultimately, she doesn't feel there's enough evidence to make a case for regression solely based on Phillips' past performance. She does have concerns about regression, but feels the evidence against Phillips isn't strong enough to cite it as a cause.
My points are to Stradley are:
- I think given the instability of defense, the losses in free agency and Phillips' history, some regression is inevitable.
- I agree the sample size may be too small to assure regression, but it certainly doesn't portend improvement or stability.
- Whatever problems exist in the AFC South offenses already existed last year.
- I believe the Texans defense will be ranked somewhere between 10th and 15th in points allowed. That would be a drop from fourth in 2011, hence my use of the word collapse. I understand why some people feel that word is too strong, but I think a ten spot tumble in points allowed merits the word.
Gower also chimed in with the following thoughts:
- He thinks that given Texans' regression with the quality of the rest of division still probably means they will win nine to 10 games and the division.
- He also agrees that the Texans defense would regress. Offhand he would guess the defense would be closer to league-average than good.
- He feels their depth beyond Smith/Watt and Barwin/Reed are the biggest concern. Perfect health is an unreasonable expectation.
- While he feels the Texans will address holes in the draft, he feels there are multiple points of weakness which create vulnerability.
My thanks to all three participants for their civil and intelligent discourse. Ultimately, we disagree about the future of the Texans, but the great thing about sports is that it will be settled on the field soon enough.