Houston Texans: 3 Keys to Their No. 1 Ranked Defense

Job TennantCorrespondent IISeptember 23, 2011

MIAMI - DECEMBER 27:  Defensive end Mario Williams #90 of the Houston Texans pressures quarterback Chad Henne #7 of the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on December 27, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Texans defeated the Dolphins 27-20.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Yes, your Houston Texans have given up few yards than any other team in the NFL through two weeks.  No one predicted that the Texans defense would have this type of success, especially early in the season. 

Granted, the fact that Peyton Manning didn't play goes a long way to explaining the fact that the Texans are ranked as the No. 1 pass defense. Even with the massive changes made in the offseason for a defense to go from 267 passing yards per game (dead last) to 162 (the best in the NFL) is a shocking development. There are three key components on the Texans' side that have lead to this drastic turn around.

The first and most important is Wade Phillips. What he has managed to do in a lockout-shortened season is amazing. That's true even if you discredit the numbers to some extent because Manning wasn't there and Chad Henne is probably closer to the quarterback that played against the Texans than the one that played against the Patriots

When we look at Phillips' impact, the most impressive thing isn't that the yardage totals are as low as they are but that there haven't been blown assignments left and right. He has created a defense that obviously is working well and was easy to adapt to. This is particularly shocking when the only player that is returning to the same position as last season is Kareem Jackson. 

In addition to not making mistakes, they have played very aggressively with five sacks in the first two games. However, the more important thing to note with their aggressive behavior is the amount of times the quarterback is disrupted, hit, hurried and made uncomfortable. 

One of the biggest plays of the game was when Mario Williams almost got to Henne but forced a very errant throw, and Johnathan Joseph picked him off and set the offense up for a touchdown.  That doesn't go down as a sack, but it does go down as a game changing play.

The addition of Joseph may have been under-appreciated until last week when he went out of the game briefly.  As soon as he went out of the game Brandon Marshall started making plays, including pushing Jason Allen into the end zone for a touchdown.

It is easy to miss his contribution because, like many of the elite corners, his name isn't called that often because he is covering up the other team's best receiver and they won't throw at him.

One of the things that makes Phillips' defense work and makes Joseph look good is the pass rush and no one has been more impressive than Mario Williams. I will admit that I thought moving him was a bad idea, that he looked slow in the preseason, that his splits were all wrong, that he couldn't cover and that moving him further away from the ball reduced his greatest asset, which is his strength.

I will also admit that I was wrong. Williams has looked great through two games. He has adjusted his splits so that he lines up closer to the ball even when he is standing and has displayed as much strength and more speed than I expected. He has been great. In addition to the aforementioned tip that lead to the interception, he almost scored a touchdown himself when he batted a ball back into Henne's face on the Dolphins' 5-yard line. If he could have held on to it instead of just blocking it, there was zero chance that Henne stopped Williams from waltzing into the end zone.

The defense will undoubtedly face its toughest challenge this weekend against the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees has the Saints ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards at 330 yards per game, so it is reasonable to assume that the Texans may give up their No. 1 ranking in passing yards, but what is much more important is if they can continue to apply pressure and not blow their coverages in the back. If they can maintain those two key components then they won't fall far from No. 1 and they will be able to sustain themselves throughout the season.