The Texans re-signed LB Christian Kirksey to a two year deal over the weekend, adding some veteran presence back to the linebacker room. It's a position that had five soon-to-be unrestricted free agents heading into the new league year.
It's now four because the man affectionately known as Kirko is coming back. And, that's a great thing. He's a leader on this team, wearing the green dot as the communicator between the sideline and the huddle. He has a great way with young players and provides leadership regardless of any situation.
In his first season with the Texans last season, he finished with over seven tackles per game, posting a 93 tackle season, tied for second on the team, although he missed four games. What Kirksey gives the Texans that they've lacked for YEARS is the fact that he was such an asset in pass coverage. He had eight passes defensed which was the top total for a player returning to the Texans in 2022.
He's vital as a middle of the field player in Tampa 2 coverage but his ability and intellect reading routes and route combinations helps the defense in all facets of pass coverage. Here's an example of that intelligence against the Titans in Week 18.
The Titans came out in a trips set with TE Anthony Firkser attached but off the ball, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine in the #2 spot and star WR A.J. Brown out wide. Kirksey was "mugging" prior to the snap (mugging = showing at the line of scrimmage - like you're in someone's "mug" i.e. face).
On the snap, Firkser and Westbrook-Ikhine did a little switch release with Firkser essentially darting back outside the Titans WR. Kirksey did indeed drop into coverage at the snap and, most importantly, kept his eyes on these two inside receiving keys.
I'm fairly certain that the Texans were in Tampa 2 which more than likely put Kirksey up the middle of the field, if and only if, there was a vertical route up the field - that would've been Westbrook-Ikhine's route. However, there was no need to go flying up the field because Firkser hitched up at about five yards and Westbrook-Ikhine was the only receiver left to read.
This was where the cat and mouse game seemed to take place…and Kirko won it. Westbrook-Ikhine's read was Kirksey and given the linebacker's leverage and spot on the field, the Titans pass catcher felt it was best to circle up and catch the rock in front of Kirksey. But, Kirksey was under control from jump and reacted accordingly to the Westbrook-Ikhine's adjustment on the route.
Kirksey then reached adroitly over the top of the Titans WR so as to not interfere and he knocked away the pass.
That pass breakup would be Kirksey's eighth, and last, pass breakup of the year, but it encapsulated the Texans signal caller perfectly.
Speed to run down the seam
Redirect skills to play top down on the receiver
Make a play on the ball without interfering