The Oakland Raiders' defense almost single-handedly defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and a big reason for that was the play of Lamarr Houston. The 2010 second-round pick had eight combined tackles, two for a loss, two quarterback hits, a sack and a forced fumble in overtime.
Houston was a one-man wrecking crew and proved why he is Oakland’s best defensive player. Houston dominated against the run, was an effective pass-rusher, sniffed out screens and had several hustle plays.
Houston is coming into his own as a pass-rusher, and if that keeps up he will be one of the most well-rounded 4-3 defensive ends in football. It's tough not to be impressed with Houston's play when you see him take on three blockers, put a devastating swim move on one of the better left tackles in football and toss aside a right tackle like a rag doll.
Houston is the type of player the Raiders can build their defense around.
One thing you love to see from a defensive player is hustle. Defensive linemen are usually so slow that few people expect them to chase a play down from behind and they often get a free pass. Houston needs no free passes because he’s constantly hustling and never gives up on a play.
Against Jacksonville there were many shining examples of Houston’s hustle. Perhaps the greatest example was the play that knocked Maurice Jones-Drew out of the game.
The Jaguars left Houston unblocked because he was the backside lineman and the run was designed to go outside left. Big mistake. Houston flowed down the line and towards Jones-Drew.
Houston never gives up on the play even though Jones-Drew should easily get to the corner, and keeps running down the play.
Miles Burris couldn't make the tackle, but slowed Jones-Drew down enough for Houston and Philip Wheeler to make the stop.
Another example of a hustle play was Houston’s forced fumble in overtime that gave the Raiders the win after a Sebastian Janikowski field goal. Houston dropped into coverage on the tight end and then left his man to force the fumble of Cecil Shorts from behind. The forced fumble was a perfect culmination of Houston’s big day.
Heart (Run Defense)
It’s been said that stopping the run is a mentality. If that’s the case, Houston has the right mentality, and his greatest asset has been his ability to stuff the run.
Houston could even be engaged by three blockers and make the tackle. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, the right tackle and a pulling guard all have a chance to block Houston and fail. Houston strings Rashad Jennings until he has no chance to gain much yardage.
Houston is also able to fight through three blocks and make the tackle. Houston’s performance against the run has gone beyond helping his teammates and he’s moved on to making plays himself.
On another play, Houston tosses the right tackle to the ground with ease and then drops the running back for a loss. It was like Houston was playing football with a rag doll.
Harassment (Pass Rush)
Houston has come a long way as a pass-rusher. He dropped weight to hopefully be quicker off the edge in 2012, which seems to have helped him. He’s never going to be an elite speed rusher, but he can still be quite effective.
The Raiders chose to flip Houston and Matt Shaughnessy some versus the Jaguars, and the result was a Houston sack after he blew past Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars' best offensive lineman.
Combined with a blitz that confused the Jaguars, Houston used a swim move to slip past Monroe. If Houston can continue to make solid technical moves like this one, he’ll continue to be an above-average pass-rusher.
Of course, every pass-rusher has to be careful not to draw penalties for hitting the quarterback below the waste or above the neck. Houston was lucky not to get flagged here, even though there was nothing he could do to prevent falling to the ground.
The Raiders were down seven points and in desperate need of a defensive stop. Houston came to the rescue with another great play, this time on a screen to Jennings.
Houston rushed inside and the coverage held up, and the Jaguars' only option was a little flip to Jennings in the flat.
Houston sniffed out the dump-off pass and aggressively ran in that direction. Houston put a hit on Jennings and stopped him for a loss which effectively ruined any chance for the Jaguars to get their offense on track.
If Houston can continue to rush the quarterback like he has the past two games, he’ll finish the season as one of the top 4-3 defensive ends in football. Even if he can’t sustain this level of production, he’s a proven commodity against the run and it’s hard to argue with his hustle.