The Texans’ defensive line was part of a defense that ranked second in the NFL (285.7 yards/game) in 2011, including fourth against the run (96.0). Much of the pressure generated by Wade Phillips’ 3-4 front started with outstanding play from defensive ends
Smith, a team captain, set a career-high with 6.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl. The “Ninja Assassin” had at least half a sack in each of the first five games of the season. He had 25 tackles (19 solo), 5.0 tackles for loss and one forced fumble overall. Smith ranked fourth among all 3-4 defensive ends in sacks and tied for fifth in tackles for loss.
Watt, a rookie from Wisconsin, had a Pro Bowl-caliber season after being picked 11th overall in the draft. “The Milk Man” had 56 tackles (49 solo), 5.5 sacks, a team-high 7.0 tackles for loss and four passes defensed. He ranked fifth among 3-4 ends in tackles, third in tackles for loss and tied for eighth in sacks. Watt had 3.5 sacks in the playoffs, tying three other players for the NFL postseason lead, and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Wild Card round against Cincinnati.
Defensive Line in Review
Starters: DE: Antonio Smith (16 games 2 postseason), J.J. Watt (16 games 2 postseason), NT: Shaun Cody (16 games 1 postseason)
Newcomers: Watt (first-round draft pick)
Injuries: Smith (shoulder, late in season)
Notable number: 2: 100-yard rushers allowed by the Texans in 2011 (Daniel Thomas, 18 carries for 107 yards, Week 2; Ray Rice, 23 carries for 101 yards, Week 6), including playoff games. The Texans limited their opponent’s leading rusher to less than 65 yards in 14 of 18 games and kept 10 of 18 opponents to 100 team rushing yards or less.
Season highlight: Wild Card playoff game vs. Cincinnati – Watt picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and returned it for a 29-yard touchdown late in the second quarter of the first playoff game in franchise history. It gave the Texans a 17-10 lead, ignited a sold-out Reliant Stadium crowd and sparked a lopsided 31-10 victory. Watt also sacked Dalton for a seven-yard loss on the final play of the first half.
Quotable: “Antonio’s a vital part of this defense. He’s a really good pass rusher and we try to put him in positions where he can get one-on-one, and the time’s he’s been one-on-one, he’s really done well… He’s an all out player. He plays as hard as you can play every play.” – Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Sept. 29, on Smith
“I have trained in the temples of Shaolin, where I have mastered my art of ninjitsu. I can walk – I can even speak without you even knowing I am speaking.” – Smith on Oct. 4, on his "Ninja Assassin" persona during an episode of “On the Nose”
“I studied all week on that formation and as soon as it happened I dropped back into my zone and just put that guy on Revis Island. Or Cody Island.” – Cody on Nov. 6, after he intercepted Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on a two-point conversion attempt in the Texans’ 30-12 victory in Week 9 at Reliant Stadium
“Let me tell you, you turn on the film and this kid played one hell of a football game. Unbelievable game… It was off the charts, now. He’s been a big-time player all year long, and he plays with great energy.”- Kubiak on Dec. 23, on Watt after he was called for several penalties in a 19-16 loss to the Colts at Indianapolis
“Like a Lycan wolf ninja – like a ninja who been bit by a werewolf and then he’s still a ninja but then transforms to the wolf come game time. And the wolf is the dog. And y’all know I got the dog, too.” - Smith on Jan. 2, on what kind of “ninja” was in store for the playoffs
“I came around and I really was trying to put my hands up, get in the way of the passing lane, and it happened to kind of stick. I realized I had the ball, so I was running to the end zone just trying not to fall down... I scored and got mauled by my teammates and the stadium went absolutely nuts. That was unbelievable.” – Watt on Jan. 7, after his pick-six against the Bengals in the Wild Card victory