In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis, an aging yet enlightened catcher cornered his young, head case of a pitcher "Nuke" LaLoosh on the mound. What followed is perhaps the best line in sports movie history.
"Don't think," *the catcher explained, plopping the ball into the hurler's glove. *"It can only hurt the ball club."
Most baseball clichés have little if anything to do with football, but when it
comes to rushing the passer and being aggressive on defense there is something
to be said for not thinking too much.
And even though Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper lit up the Texans secondary
for five touchdown passes Sunday, an aggressive pass rush and basic ideas of man
coverage have paid dividends for the team over the last month.
No over thinking, more reading and reacting.
The Texans have forced six turnovers in the last three games. Two went for scores. The team is 2-1 in those contests. And if any of the pressure tactics resulted in a turnover against the Vikings Sunday, things could have been a lot different.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson flew all around the football field in the Texans 34-28 overtime loss to the Vikings, pressuring Culpepper early and often, nearly picking up an interception when he batted a pass from the quarterback at point-blank range, but was unable to haul in the ball.
"The first two games we weren't really aggressive and gave quarterbacks a lot of time to throw the football," Robinson said Monday. "So we started running more blitzes. We are doing a good job at getting to the quarterback so we just need to continue game in and game out. As long as we keep getting pressure I think (the strategy) will stick around."
The Texans blitzed the Vikings regularly but failed to get a turnover. Robinson
alone, according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, blitzed between 10 and 15 times. The Texans sacked Culpepper three times and
seven of the team's 10 sacks have come in the last three games.
Few turnovers? Call it bad luck.
But don't expect the team to return to a more conservative approach because of
a lack of turnovers.
Fangio gave much of the credit to Culpepper who threw the ball away under pressure and checked into short pass routes to get the ball out of the back field quickly. Texans head coach Dom Capers agreed, saying Monday the game plan, while sound, was disrupted by Culpepper's skill.
"To me it's a week-to-week decision to make," Fangio said of adding more blitz packages. "I think we've done a pretty good job of executing our pressures lately. I'm sure we'll keep them in and add to them each and every week to try to tailor to the opponent we're playing. I've been pleased with the way we have executed our pressure defenses for the most part and they have helped us. We have gotten some good plays out of them."
Culpepper finished with 396 passing yards but had more than 38 minutes on the field to work on his numbers. Capers said the offense will work on staying on the field more and remaining consistent throughout the game. In the meantime the defense has done well in pressure situations, especially late in the Vikings game when the team was coming back from a 21-point deficit.
Minnesota scored a touchdown on its first possession in the second half but the defense tightened up for the remainder of the game.
The Vikings went three-and-out five times in the final two quarters, and punted on six of seven series following the touchdown .The defenses' two mistakes resulted in two 50-yard touchdown strikes but the group held Minnesota to one, six, and five net yards on its final three possessions before overtime.
That's pressure when it counted.
"We kept doing our thing," linebacker Jason Babin, who sacked Culpepper in the game, said. "We kept blitzing. (Fangio) said we were going to go after them, and that's what we did." "We were trying to make (Culpepper's) decisions come as quick as possible. We know he can make some pretty good decisions if you give him time back there. We were trying to hurry him the best we could."
But the quarterback is not the only one feeling the brunt of the Texans new-found aggression. The defense has 35 passes defensed on the season, 25 of which have come in the last two games.
Free safety Marcus Coleman started the turnaround in that department when he returned an interception 102 yards for a touchdown against the Chiefs Sept. 26.
He said that game was the big turning point.
The Texans trailed in that game too, but the defense made a point to "just play ball." Quarterback Trent Green was sacked a couple of times late in the game and the fight has yet to die.
"We have been pressuring a little bit more these last few games," Fangio said. "Some of that was dictated by who we were playing. We wanted to add a little bit of a mix into our rush.
"We (pressured more at Kansas City) in the fourth quarter whereas we were playing more zone up to that point. It helped us in that game toward the end and it obviously helped us against Oakland. Really for the most part yesterday we had good success with it too, overall. It's something I think our guys are getting more confident in doing and the better they execute it, the more we'll do it."
Of course, it requires some thought. But not the kind that will hurt the ball club.