The ultimate goal of any team is to win championships, but in order to do that you must first make it to the playoffs.
The Houston Texans have failed to do just that in its first nine years of their existence. Every preseason they are the trendy pick to finally crack the postseason, but every year they have disappointed.
Since Gary Kubiak took over in 2006, the team has seemingly been on the cusp of becoming an elite team. Every year though, the offense produces numbers for fantasy football enthusiasts’ dreams, but the defense is abhorrent. Inevitably, the lopsided team has failed to win double digit game totals in any season because it is incapable of stopping opposing teams when necessary.
After a 6-10 record in 2010, many believed that owner Bob McNair had seen enough and would pull the plug on the Kubiak regime. Defying convention, however, McNair decided to give Kubiak a stay of execution and hired recently fired Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to coordinate the defense.
On the surface, this appears to be business as usual: Keep the coach that can’t close games, hire a coach from a coaching tree familiar to Kubiak and McNair that they are comfortable with and eventually wonder why it didn’t work.
That won’t be happening in 2011. I believe the edition of Wade Phillips will be enough to send the Texans to their first ever playoff appearance this next season.
Texans fans are a cynical bunch, and understandably so. Years of unfulfilled hype has left the more veteran contingent of the fan base skeptical of any promising talk. Titles bestowed upon Phillips such as “Mr. Fix-it” are discounted as the newest propaganda from the team aimed at reselling the dream of success.
Remove your experiences of disappointment for a second and think about this analytically. You’re not being asked to believe in Frank Bush, Richard Smith or any other first time defensive coordinator getting thrown into the fire. We’re talking about a man who took his first job as a coordinator 30 years ago.
The common image of a befuddled Phillips on the Cowboys sideline doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but don’t confuse lack of success as a head coach of the circus in Irving with lack of proficiency as a defensive coordinator. Phillips certainly is a great defensive coach, and he is used to producing quickly.
It isn’t hyperbole that Phillips is used to fixing bad defenses. Of the six defenses he took over for, five of them improved in points allowed the very first season, and the only one that didn’t was Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles team that already averaged 10th in the league the year before.
Additionally, those six defenses averaged 23rd in the league in points allowed the year before Wade took over. The average for the Phillips’ first year defenses was 11th in points scored. This was good for a difference of almost 5 points a game in one season.
Phillips is also not new to instituting his version of the 3-4 defense. Take his stint as defensive coordinator in San Diego for example. Wade took over a 4-3 defense that was 31st in the league the year prior, and in his first season made them into a 3-4 that was the 11th best scoring defense.
The reason that Phillips can accomplish such quick turnarounds is that he tailors his scheme to the players that he has already on the roster. The tenants of his 3-4 are somewhere between a 4-3 and a traditional 3-4, which allows him some flexibility to be creative.
For instance, outside linebackers are known as the primary pass rushers in a 3-4, and yet Phillips gave defensive end Bruce Smith a chance to put up Hall of Fame numbers. Also, Phillips turned an undersized 3-4 nose tackle in Jay Ratliff into Pro Bowler. Phillips bases his defense around his best players’ talents rather than being stringent with his scheme and shoehorning players to fit it.
This is another reason for fast results. Wade doesn’t require just the right type of players at certain positions for his defense to be successful. There is no such thing as the “Wade Phillips mold” at outside linebacker, defensive end or nose tackle. Phillips claims that the Texans have several players on the roster that fit, and his track record dictates that we should believe him.
There is only so much making-do that even Phillips can accomplish, though. Phillips, who has seemingly been given the reins over defensive personnel decisions, has made great moves, or lack thereof, regarding the defensive roster thus far.
The ability to diagnose that Bernard Pollard, Eugene Wilson and Amobi Okoye are not functional for the Texans’ new defensive direction, despite any high draft stock or popularity they might posses, is invaluable. It is this decisiveness which inspires faith that he not only has correctly diagnosed the usefulness of remaining players, but that he will choose wisely in the upcoming draft and free agency period.
The last thing that is so reassuring is the style of defense that Phillips employs. As I previously mentioned, it is all based on pressuring the quarterback. Rather than just all out pressure like that of Rex Ryan though, he uses confusion more than sheer numbers to overwhelm opposing passers.
Jim Miller stated that in his playing career the three toughest defensive coordinators he faced were Bill Belichick, Greg Williams and Wade Phillips. When addressing Richard Justice about Phillips’ hire with by Texans, the former Chicago quarterback had this to say: “Great hire. When the game was over, I’d be mentally drained with some of the things Wade was doing with the Falcons. I also know guys love playing for him.”
Many Texans fans who wanted to believe in a defensive turnaround have been fooled in the past. When Frank Bush’s defense played 13 games of seemingly good defense on the tail end of 2009, he garnered enthusiastic support. Looking back, however, that success probably had more to do with subpar competition than good play.
Fans should buy into Wade Phillips. For the first time in franchise history, the defense has a clear cut direction of effort. If Phillips is able to improve the defense to anything close to 18th in scoring defense, as his average suggests he can, Gary Kubiak’s offense will be more than potent enough to take the Texans to their first playoff appearance.
The Texans defense is the proverbial “boy who cried wolf." Many fans have adopted a “believe it when I see it” mentality in regards to a defensive turnaround, but that’s fine. Wade Phillips has done it before and he will do it again this year.
Just remember next January that you read it here last March.
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