The Texans Pass Rush and Alex Smith

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The Houston Texans play the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Like clockwork the Chiefs have another running back to fear in rookie Kareem Hunt. If this was your typical Kansas City team, Hunt would have the undivided attention of the Texan’s defense. The difference is this is not your father’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Alex Smith suddenly looks like the quarterback the 49ers envisioned when they picked him first overall in 2005. Smith ranks eighth in passing yards and has not thrown an interception in 2017. He has spread the ball around nicely with four players having at least 13 receptions. Smith remains elusive in the pocket, but has still been sacked 16 times this season. This is the weakness the Texans need to exploit to end the Chiefs unbeaten run.

After four games the Texans are tied for 14th with 10 total sacks. At their current pace, the pass rush is much improved from last season. They are getting pressure from various places around the field. This has been essential to protect a Houston secondary that has a lot to prove. The Chiefs have two wide receivers who can stretch the field, so it is essential the law firm of Watt, Clowney & Mercilus keep Smith uncomfortable in the pocket. The key part being in the pocket, since Smith is more dangerous on the edges and make plays outside of the pocket.

This should be the week Mr. Hurricane Relief gets on the sack scoreboard. J.J. Watt is yet to record a sack this season. He has still made an impact against the run and disrupted opposing quarterbacks. It seems like Romeo Crennel’s plan is using Watt inside to help stop the run and get push along the interior line. He has lined up a large amount over the guard instead of outside the tackle. His interior alignment has allowed the opposing offense to double team him more than usual. This has taken away opportunities to bring down the opposing quarterback. In the second half against the Titans he began to lineup more often in his usual five or seven techniques. It appears that Crennel is experimenting with using Watt inside more, but the question must be asked if he will start to move him back to his natural position on passing downs.

Watt lining up inside the tackles does provide better matchups for Clowney, Mercilus and third year linebacker Bernardrick McKinney. It was a surprise to see Clowney and Watt lining up on the same side of the offensive line. With this scheme an offense must pick their battles and chose who to double team or chip with a running back. Teams frequently move receivers around to target weak cornerbacks or defensive schemes, so why not do the same thing with two elite edge players.

One-on-one battles typically determine an effective pass rush, but the scheme can also. The Texans have a variety of players who can get around an offensive lineman and this provide flexibility. Clowney and Mercilus are both suited to 3-4 defense since they are so adaptable. This allows Romeo Crennel to bring pressure from different points of the fields.  They can drop Clowney in to coverage opposite of a Mercilus or McKinney zone blitz. Multiple players lineup near the line of scrimmage to disguise the difference between a three-man rush or various blitz packages. This scheme in addition to their elite edge players make the Texan’s defensive front difficult to stop.

The Chiefs have looked like the best team in football through four weeks. Fortunately for Houston, the Chief’s biggest weakness is their biggest strength. Alex Smith slips out of a couple sacks per game, but the opportunity for a monster game is at hand for J.J. Watt and company. Andy Reid will try to use this to his advantage by running draws and throwing various screens. This experienced front seven has seen all this before and they should be the difference between a win and a loss against the Chiefs.