The defensive line is the heart and soul of the Houston Texans team. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are by far two of the best defensive ends in football. They disrupt every opponents game plan week in and week out. The athleticism and play making ability from Watt and Clowney are what make them so dangerous.
From left to right the Texans defensive line starters are; Watt, D.J. Reader and Clowney. The notable absence is Vince Wilfork, who is an unrestricted free agent and considering retirement. Willfork’s presence will be missed, but won’t be noticed on the stat sheet. Wilfork was a prototypical nose tackle in Houston’s 3-4 scheme. He absorbed blockers, creating space and giving the teammates around him the opportunity to make plays. Reader will have to fill the role of Wilfork for this season, if not many more. Reader actually accumulated more tackles than Wilfork last season, 22 compared to 21. The difference is only one, but it shows he is able to fill Wilfork’s role.
Watt is the most feared defensive end in the NFL today. Opponents attempt to neutralize Watt each week and fail miserably. At this point, it should be about limiting what Watt can do instead attempting to eliminate his effectiveness. While Watt only was able to play three games last season, it is expected for him to be back and healthy this upcoming season. Not counting last season, Watt has averaged 14.9 sacks per season with 74.2 total tackles per season. These numbers are extremely impressive and should continue as long as Watt returns healthy.
Clowney has taken a few years to develop and get fully healthy, but he provides a complimentary presence to Watt. Through his first two season he has 10.5 sacks, he would most likely have more if he wasn’t playing opposite of Watt. Clowney has yet to play a full season, four games his rookie season, 13 in year two and 14 in his third. Long term health will always be a concern with Clowney, but the benefit of him on the roster outweighs the potential risk. Clowney appeared to put it all together last season. It appears he is turning into the player Houston thought he could be when he was drafted.
In addition to the starters, rookie Carlos Watkins is expected to play a significant role on the defensive line this season. There is a multitude of reasons for this. To take the pressure off of Reader playing the nose tackle position and to preserve the long term health of Watt and Clowney. There will not be a full on rotation on the defensive line. Just strategical substitutions throughout the course of the game.
In the long run, Watkins has the potential to be a replacement for Clowney if they decide to move on. Injuries will always be a concern with Clowney. The “injury prone” tag is not welcome by the player receiving, but most often it is fair. Clowney is yet to play a full season and until he does, that label will follow him.
If the Texans are to have a good defensive unit this season, it all comes back to the defensive line. They are the best group on defense and it’s not even close. Watt and Clowney are the leaders on defense. Their dominance sets the tone for the defense and allows them to shut down the running game and disrupt the passing game. If a team attempts to bounce a run outside, Clowney or Watt are able to contain it and stop it. Any time the quarterback drops back to pass, they are able to make him uncomfortable in the pocket due to their constant pressure.
Consistent pressure from the defensive end position and a presence which absorbs blockers up the middle is what makes this unit so effective. It is the trademark of the Houston Texans franchise and it has been for a long time. Expecting a rebound year from Watt and a year of growth from Clowney is completely reasonable and entirely possible. Watt will be able to return to form and Clowney will be able to blossom into a top tier pass rusher.
Expectations are high in Houston for the upcoming season and it all starts with defensive line. They are the key to their success or their failure in this upcoming season. A lofty set of expectations are set upon their shoulders. Luckily for Houston, they are more than up to the challenge of being and elite defensive unit and carrying the team for a deep playoff run.