Immediately upon the announcement of Romeo Crennel as the Houston Texans defensive coordinator, the questions began.
"If they two gap, what will he do with JJ Watt? That'll eliminate his effectiveness."
"How much will they blitz?"
"Zone or man?"
Those questions aren't completely answered in one game but the worry should at least be squelched a bit after the defense's performance, especially with the pass pressure it placed on Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.
Now, Griffin completed 29 of 37 attempts for 267 yards, but two completions accounted for a quarter of that total. 35 attempts for 199 yards, less than six yards per attempt was a phenomenal number. He threw it deep, truly launched it deep, only once. He struggled making a significant impact throwing the ball. Why?
There were four key tenets to the pressure and the resulting win.
a. Watt greatness!
Let's be clear about this right now. Watt is playing at a level that I can't remember ever seeing him. He was all-time good in 2012 and it seemed he was even better on Sunday. He hit nearly every statistical box on the stat sheet and hit Griffin five different times. He only ended up with one sack but he lived on the Redskins line of scrimmage.
On the first drive, on second and one, the Redskins lined up with DeSean Jackson in the backfield.
When the ball is snapped, Watt blasted off the line of scrimmage at LG Shawn Lauvao and began to drive him backwards. Well, even more so than Lauvao wanted to in his pass set.
Now, there's no way an OL can ever make a block backpedaling, but that's essentially what Watt forced. A 300 lb. man was being walked backwards like it's nothing. Watt decided to take him right back into Griffin's lap.
Griffin has no choice but to throw the swing to Jackson out of the backfield or else he'd be sacked in a second. But, he paid for it, just making that simple throw. Watt knocked Lauvao and Griffin down on the play. Look at the JJ Watt shrapnel created just by bull rushing Lauvao.
He did THAT all game long to anyone that had responsibility to block him. But, Watt had help.
b. Well-timed blitzes
Crennel isn't Rob Ryan or a blitz hungry defensive coordinator. He makes sound calls and expects his defensive charges to execute. But, the sign of a good defensive coordinator is when to use a well-timed blitz. Here's a perfect example:
Middle of the second quarter
Redskins - 3rd and 8 on Texans 34 yard line.
The Texans were in dime personnel, which put S DJ Swearinger at dime linebacker, as per usual.
As the ball is about to be snapped, Swearinger walked up to the line of scrimmage, outside of the tight end.
On the snap…
OLB Whitney Mercilus darted inside to the B gap (between guard and tackle), Swearinger rushed the edge and ILB Mike Mohamed blew through the C gap (between tackle and tight end). Washington didn't have a chance on that side as Mohamed came clean, in addition to Swearinger. But, Brooks Reed, in the oval, beat them all there as he whipped RT Tyler Polumbus.
PARTY AT THE QUARTERBACK. That sack pushed Washington out of field goal and potentially saved three points the Redskins desperately needed to put on the board.
The blitz itself was highly effective and when well-timed as this one was, considering the fact that RAC hadn't called many blitzes to that point, it produced a result as such.
c. Disciplined 4 man pass rush
The thing about blitzing is that it can't be your only way of getting to the quarterback. If a defense can rush three or four effectively and still get that heat, an offense is cooked. But, the four rushers have to stay in pass rush lanes, not get undisciplined and not allow a running lane for a mobile quarterback, like the one the Texans faced on Sunday.
Here's an example of the Texans four man pressure: disciplined and deadly.
On the snap, Reed was up in the B gap but on the snap, he looped outside to be the contain rusher.
By doing so, Reed allowed Watt free run, essentially, to the inside where he controlled the right guard one-on-one. But, the best part about it was that the four rushers - Mercilus, Crick, Watt and Reed - have enveloped Griffin, stayed true to their rush lanes and provided no running escape lane for the Redskins QB.
Swatt time. But, that knockdown doesn't happen without that rush maintaining disciplined lane integrity, in particular Reed on the outside. Speaking of Reed...
d. Reed's pursuit with pressure
The term "he played like his hair was on fire" always scares me when it comes to talking about Brooks Reed. The image of that hair on fire frightens me to no end but there's really no other term to accurately describe the way he played and will always play.
But, to truly appreciate his performance, you have to understand this:
1. He was responsible for backside pursuit against the run
2. He was responsible for bootleg on Griffin
3. He was responsible for reverse, perhaps Jackson or Pierre Garcon
3. He dropped in coverage on occasion
4. He needed to rush the edge
5. He had to play nearly every snap of the game.
He played those multiple roles to a T. Seeing it live did more for me than watching it again on the TV copy. I coached that position long ago and rarely, if ever, did I see a guy able to handle all that he did and give his team that sort of performance.
• He ran down DeSean Jackson on a reverse, with help from Jadeveon Clowney.
• He forced Griffin to throw away a couple of throws on scrambles or bootlegs when he was the only Texan in the area that could.
• He beat tackles consistently with his pass rush.
• He played in space when needed.
It was, by far, the best game we've seen Reed play and it made me cringe that many of us thought he should've moved to ILB next to Brian Cushing. This team doesn't win that game without Reed flourishing on the edge.
In conclusion, there's no absolute secret sauce to the Texans' success v. the Redskins. Sometimes it's in the subtleties, the small things. Sometimes it's because this team has the best defensive player on the planet. And, please, don't let me forget about the secondary that played a marvelous game. Bill O'Brien says it all the time "it's a team win" and the defense, led by Crennel, proved that once again.