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Texans defense excited for 2017 possibilities

The 2016 season was a great one for the Houston Texans defense but what's next?

After wrapping up the regular season as the No. 1 defense in the NFL for the first time in franchise history, the Texans continued to wreak havoc in the postseason, forcing six takeaways, 21 passes defensed and allowing just 81.0 yards rushing per game.

"I thought the defense played well this year," head coach Bill O'Brien said Monday. "Looking forward to evaluating and trying to get better."

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel worked around key injuries to starters like J.J. Watt and Kevin Johnson. The Texans utilized 15 different starting lineup combinations, tied for second-most in the NFL, and 20 different starters on defense.

With the return of Watt and other starters in 2017, many are excited about the possibilities moving forward.

"The future looks bright," Whitney Mercilus said. "Honestly, we've got a great group of guys who stepped up their game this year and did a great job for us to be in the position we were in. To have J.J. back next year is going to be great. He's going to add that much more. Looking forward to it."

The Texans defense surpassed expectations when it finished first in the NFL without Watt, the three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year. Johnson, second-year cornerback and a rising talent, also suffered a season-ending injury which landed him on injured reserve after Week 6.

The 2017 season should see the return of both Watt and Johnson. Jadeveon Clowney, who moved to defensive end, will also have a full season of experience at his new position.

"It's definitely exciting," Johnson said. "I know I'm really determined and I'm really hungry just thinking about next season. Sitting out this past year was a big deal for me mentally as far as knowing how bad I want to be a great player and how bad I want to help this team, so I'm definitely looking forward to it."

The Texans defense allowed only 301.3 total net yards and 17.0 first downs per game, ranking first in both categories in 2016. Houston's defense also gave up just 201.6 net passing yards per contest, the second-lowest mark in the league.

The Texans and Patriots faced each other in the Divisional Playoff at Gillette Stadium.

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