With Mario Williams departing for the Buffalo Bills, the Houston Texans will be without one of the best defensive players in the game for the 2012 season. But they will be able to recover from the big loss and still have one of the best defenses in the league.
Williams had an impact on the Texans defense for years, but the loss may actually make the D even better.
While Williams played great in the 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, he only managed to play for five weeks before getting injured. With Williams out, the Texans defense did not miss a beat, becoming the second-best defense in the league in total yards allowed, behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the first five games with Williams, the Houston defense managed to record eight turnovers and 91 first downs. In the five games after Williams was injured, the defense recorded 12 turnovers and 70 first downs—substantially better.
With one of the best pass-rushers in the game out for the season, the defense still excelled. They could've easily become just like the 2011 Indianapolis Colts. Without their best player on offense, quarterback Peyton Manning, the Colts offense struggled, becoming one of the worst offenses in the league.
Houston avoided a potential hazard, managed to win its first AFC South title and clinch its first playoff berth in team history.
Will the Texans defense be top five in the league in 2012?
All the defensive success that occurred without Williams can be attributed to Phillips and the emergence of linebacker Brooks Reed.
Phillips, in his first season with the Texans, improved the defense drastically. In 2010, the Texans finished 30th in the league in total yards allowed. With Phillips in 2011, they jumped 28 spots to become the second-best defense in total yards allowed.
With his 3-4 scheme, Phillips relied on the second-round pick out of Arizona to replace the star DE/LB. With Phillips' great coaching, Reed adapted well into the 3-4 defense, recording six tackles in his first career start in Week 6, and his first sack the following week.
Reed finished the year with 45 tackles and six sacks—similar to Williams' rookie season of 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2006.
While Williams has become a big name in the league, the Texans will be just fine at the defensive end position after drafting Whitney Mercilus from Illinois with their first pick in this year's draft. Phillips, a defensive guru, doesn't get star players, but players that can excel in his defensive scheme.
A prime example was Reed.
He was a hidden gem at the linebacker position. With a 3-4 defense, athletic linebackers are needed. Reed, who ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, was a perfect fit for Phillips and his defensive scheme. The constant adjustments to an offense that come in a 3-4 were met with Reed's speed and strength.
With Mercilus, you can infer that he was picked because he and Reed can fill that void Mario Williams left.
The Texans must add players to help them become a more legitimate threat, but the defensive end and linebacker positions are not a concern. While Williams is one of the best defensive players in the league, Mercilus and Reed have the Texans looking dominant on defense in 2012 under Wade Phillips.