To say the 2016 Texans defense has been extraordinary may ultimately be the understatement of the entire season. Without two key starters and the three time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Texans still produced one of the best defensive seasons in franchise history. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and his coaching staff did an amazing job dealing with adversity and injuries to construct this outstanding unit. They received contributions from players up and down the defensive roster, rookies and veterans alike.
The way this group plays together was what stood out when watching it on film; it's a group that excels because all three levels of the defense work in concert consistently. All three units perform their jobs well, which has led to turnovers and key defensive plays throughout the season. That true team defensive concept was illustrated in the fourth quarter of the AFC South clinching win over Cincinnati.
The Texans offense had just answered the Bengals touchdown with a touchdown of its own early in the fourth quarter. Three plays after Alfred Blue's 24-yard run to give the Texans a 12-10 lead, the Texans defense faced a second down passing opportunity from the Bengals.
The Bengals had 11 personnel in the lineup with tight end C.J Uzomah and running back Rex Burkhead in the backfield.
The Texans answered with nickel personnel (five defensive backs) as Crennel anticipated that the Bengals would throw on second down. Crennel brought safety Quintin Demps off the edge and played man coverage in the secondary.
On the snap, the defensive line slanted to the left side and Demps was the rusher off the right side. Benardrick McKinney covered the tight end Uzomah in man coverage and Brian Cushing had Burkhead out of the backfield. The rest of the secondary then locked up the Bengals receivers.
On the left side of the formation, Whitney Mercilus ripped right past second year tackle Jake Fisher and beat him before Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton even got to his top step on his pass drop. Take a look at the downfield picture. Even if Mercilus hadn't gotten past Fisher as quickly as he did, where was Dalton going to go with the football? The secondary had it locked down and McKinney was draped all over the tight end.
But, Mercilus did beat Fisher. Badly.
Dalton didn't even really have time to dodge, duck, dip, dive or dodge away from Mercilus because the Texans star pass rusher was on him so quickly. But, here's the other aspect on this play. Had Mercilus not gotten him, Cushing would have.
One of the things that we've seen this year from the Texans has been how cover players added on to the blitz if their responsibility blocked. McKinney had a key sack in overtime against the Colts earlier in the season because he added on to the blitz in the same manner. When Burkhead responded to Demps' pressure off the edge, Cushing took off for Dalton. He had a wide open lane and had a sure sack in his sights.
Only if Mercilus hadn't beaten him to it.
There was a party of deep steel blue at Dalton's feet and Mercilus registered one of his 7.5 sacks on the season and second on the night. But, it was a team effort - from the effective defensive line slant to McKinney's coverage to Cushing's add-on to the blitz to the extraordinary secondary coverage. If you wondered how this unit has gotten it done in 2016, here's your answer.
Check out the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for Sunday's game against the Titans.