In the National Football League, success breeds confidence. Some might label it arrogance or even hubris of professional athletes, but success requires a certain amount of cockiness when taking on the best football players in the world who are intent on proving themselves better.
The media likes to call this “swagger.” It is just one of many buzzwords that are applied depending on results. If a football player is abundantly confident and yet produces, he possesses swagger. If he is brashly self-assured but fails to generate results on the football field, he is cocky.
Entire squads can have swagger, even more so than individuals in fact. The best defenses, for example, carry themselves with an air of superiority. Think of defenses like the Steelers or their rival Ravens; these crews wear their confidence like a suit of armor when facing each other or other physical teams, determined to prove themselves better.
How does a group get swagger, though? The confidence has to start at the top and trickle down. This isn’t accomplished by theatrical locker-room speeches as a movie might suggest—rather it is done by a steady and absolute belief that you belong among the best.
The Houston Texans have never had such a defense. They’ve only ranked in the top half of the league in total defense twice, but beyond this statistical standing they’ve also never produced a defense whose confidence and ferocity inspired fear in opposing offenses. It is absurd to think of any Texans defense with a nickname based on its reputation.
The Texans defense has never had an identity under Gary Kubiak, much less a notorious reputation. As many Texans advocates have pointed out, though, myself included, the defense doesn’t need to be dominant for the team to win. An average group matched with Kubiak’s offense would probably produce double-digit wins.
Don’t tell that to the new defensive coaching staff. It is becoming more and more apparent that they are not shooting for average. Even though they cannot even have contact with their players—who will eventually have to learn an entirely new defensive scheme once the lockout is over—they are already setting the tone and expectations for their group.
Think of the really good teams, be they offensive or defensive in design, and how they are able to be so successful. It’s not that they keep their methods secret and therefore bewilder opposing teams with new tactics every week. More often they utilize a simple game plan that is executed so well that it is hard to beat.
There is a shift from the former mindset to the latter with new Texans defensive coaching staff. Take linebackers coach Reggie Herring’s recent comments regarding widespread shock that Mario Williams will be moved from defensive end to outside linebacker:
“There’s been a lot of what I would say a lot of overreaction as to us moving him out there,” Herring said last week in his office at Reliant Stadium. “There’s a lot of anxiety built up for no reason. At the end of the day, over half the game, our outside ‘backers are down in our sub package rushing outside, which is what he did anyway and has done in college.”Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images
“And the other half of the (time), he will just be in a two-point (stance) outside rushing from an outside position, and very, very seldomly dropping,” Herring said. “We’re different in structure from most 3-4 teams, and I think everybody breaks out the 3-4 manual and kind of broad brushes just what we’re doing with him, and they don’t really understand our 3-4 defense.
“Our 3-4 defense is we determine who rushes on every snap, not the formation. Nobody can dictate by formation who rushes or drops by motioning the tight end over and creating a strong set to the weakside. We say who’s going to rush, and they rush. And at the end of the day, regardless of what formation it is, we’ll dictate how many times Mario rushes and drops. So people can forget about that.”
Herring went on to discuss the process of how Mario will rush next year. Essentially, he is telling teams how the Texans plan on pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and that they still won’t be able to beat it. This same brazen plan was used with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and even though teams knew he was rushing 90 percent of the time, they often could not stop him from sacking the quarterback regularly.
The one thing about Peyton and his wide receivers is that if they're allowed to predict what you're doing on defense, they have a good chance of being successful. So the key for us will be to show different looks and think out of the box. That could be blitzing when they think we're playing zone, or playing zone when they think we're blitzing. It's showing multiple looks more than anything. We have to frustrate them and try to get them disjointed so that they're on different pages. When defenses do that, they tend to have more success against the Colts.
Not only is this a great example of Bush’s normal attempt to not give away trade secrets, but it also shows the reactive nature of his defensive scheme. He was sucked into Manning’s game of misdirection rather than ignoring it and focusing on what would have made his defense successful. In other words, “don’t get beat” was the philosophy as opposed to “let’s beat them.”
All this isn’t to say that the new defensive philosophy is completely predictable. Consider Wade Phillips’ recent comments regarding the defensive alignment he will employ:
“They say ‘3-4’, ‘4-3’, all that,” Phillips said at the Texans' annual Charity Golf Classic. “We really play a 5-2. We play five defensive linemen that can rush the passer and two inside 'backers who can tackle people. And we think Mario certainly fits in there.”
“The more you can do with players scheme-wise helps you,” he said. “We’re going to put Mario down some, but we’re not going to tell them when. And same thing with Cushing: We’re going to play him inside most of the time, but sometimes he’s going to be rushing outside.”
Translation: Six out of the front seven are capable pass rushers and will be sent after your quarterback in different combinations. Have fun figuring out who is coming.
He isn’t using Cushing’s ability to rush as an ace up his sleeve that can be used just at the right time. He is saying this is our plan—try to stop us.
This philosophy is a mixture of transparency and the unknown. That again contradicts Bush’s philosophy on bringing pressure:
I think that you have to have that bullet in your gun, so to speak, and blitz when it's time to blitz. I see us being aggressive, and that does not necessarily mean blitzing more often. We're going to bring a lot of people to the quarterback. As far as Peyton Manning, he is extremely talented. If you blitz him, you better be right or you will pay. So we have to be right when we blitz the Indianapolis Colts or any team for that matter.
You have to be right. This philosophy would suppose that there is a perfect set of plays to use in reaction to the offensive play, and if the right match is not selected all is lost.
The purpose of this article is not to point out the deficiencies of Frank Bush. It is to show the difference in attitude of the new coaching staff with the attitudes of the older regimes. I personally see a lot more willingness to take chances in order to be great rather than mitigating risks in order to not be bad.
The Texans defensive coaching staff may produce an average defense next season, but it won’t be because they tried to. It will be because they attempted to be elite and were both successful and not at different times.
That attitude is infectious though. When the defense fails, it won’t be because the coaching staff called the wrong play or they weren’t aggressive enough. It will be because players didn’t execute. To succeed in such a system requires confidence and, dare I say, even a bit of swagger.
I don’t know how good the defense will be next year, but for the first time as a Texans fan I am looking forward to finding out rather than dreading it.
What are your thoughts though? Let me know in the comments or on twitter (@JakeBRB).