Much has been made about the Houston Texans’ inability to keep their 2011 playoff roster intact heading into the 2012 season. Fans got upset, as fans often times do, but at the very least the loss of Mario Williams was unavoidable. To retain Williams, he would have had to agree to a pay cut and the Texans would have had to make cuts in other areas of the team.
An even more upsetting loss to some Texans fans was the loss of linebacker Demeco Ryans, a longtime Houston Texan and a fan favorite. Even some local journalists couldn’t keep their emotions from getting the best of them. Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle berated linebackers coach Reggie Herring in an article several weeks ago in response to Herrings’ suggestion that the Texans would be just as well off, if not better off, with newly signed linebacker Bradie James than Ryans.
Solomon harshly criticized Reggie Herrings remarks, which is understandable. When players like Demeco Ryans mean so much to a football team, both on and off the field, the prospect of parting with them seems nonsensical. Ryans had some great years as the middle linebacker in the Texans’ 4-3 defense, but Jerome Solomon and many other Texans fans failed to realize two things: 1) Demeco Ryans’ play was regressing 2) The Texans are absolutely committed to fiscal responsibility, ensuring that this team has cap room to maneuver not only in the short term, but the long term as well.
Following In Their Footsteps
The great teams over the past couple of decades have proven that this philosophy works. The New England Patriots consistently let their free agents walk after getting several premium years out of them, or they simply choose to trade them. Although Richard Seymour has had a couple of good seasons with the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots simply weren’t prepared to make him one of the highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL. The Patriots keep winning. The Raiders keep losing.
Furthermore, Demeco Ryans’ new role in the 3-4 defense was quite frankly not as important as his former role in the 4-3. With the immergence of Brian Cushing as one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL, along with a trio of talent pass rushing outside linebackers, the Texans felt certain that Bradie James has what it takes to adequately fill Ryans’ former role, and I’m certain that he will.
Eye On The Future
Keep in mind, several players of much greater importance are due for new contracts following the 2012 season. Left tackle Duane Brown, QB Matt Schaub, and DB Glover Quin are all set to hit the market and the Texans want the cap flexibility to retain all three players.
All of these factors led to a slight changing of the guard on the defensive side of the ball in Houston. Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans were the faces of the Texans’ defense for many years, and both players did all they could to hold together a struggling stop unit. Now the baton has been passed to Jonathan Joseph, Brian Cushing, and J.J. Watt to continue what Wade Phillips has started.
But what about on the field? Can the Texans reasonably expect to be as good or better in 2012 as they were in 2011, despite the loss of Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans?
I believe they can, and I believe they will. Forget all the talk about Wade Phillips-coached defenses regressing in their second year under the coach. Each team has different circumstances and it is unfair to lump the Texans into this category before the 2012 squad has even taken the field.
Demeco Ryans’ loss will likely be felt more in the locker room than on the field. The former defensive captain provided great leadership both on and off the field, but his play since his Achilles injury has not been the same. Ryans finished with just 36 tackles on 295 run snaps in 2011, one of the lower percentage totals in the league. Additionally, Ryans was taken out of the game in all nickel or dime situations on defense, with Brian Cushing manning the middle on passing situations.
Bradie James, Ryans’ successor, meanwhile, has plenty of experience in Wade Phillips’ defense, having played under Wade in Dallas for many years. Although James is past the prime of his career, the wear on his body will be reduced due to the limited number of defensive snaps that he will be on the field. The Texans also have 3rd year man Daryl Sharpton chomping at the bit to get playing time alongside James.
As for the loss of Mario Williams, if anyone is actually worried about that, I’d challenge you to go watch some game tape of the Texans’ defense from Week 6 on of the previous season. Not only did Brooks Reed fill in admirably in Williams’ absence, but the Texans drafted another pass rusher in the 1st round of the 2012 draft, Illinois product Whitney Mercilus.
The Texans will have an impressive rotation of pass rushers to throw at opposing offensive lines. You may even see Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, and Mercilus on the field at the same time occasionally in 2012 as Phillips will be able to get more creative with the added depth the defense received. Blaine Gabbert is already peeing his pants, trust me.
It’s Gonna’ Be OK
Did the Texans lose a couple of good football players this offseason? Yes. Did they add more good football players to replace them? Yes.
Although letting go of fan favorites isn’t the sexiest way to run a franchise, the Texans’ brass did a tremendous job of setting themselves up for fiscal maneuverability whilst maintaining their advantage in depth that they hold against most other NFL teams. It is no coincidence that General Manager Rick Smith and Head Coach Gary Kubiak received contract extensions this past week.
So if you’re a Texans fan and you’ve been worried about the continued success of the Texans’ defense, you can stop worrying now. You’re in good hands, and it’s gonna’ be OK.