HOUSTON -- As disruptive an interior force as there is in the NFL, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is manhandling blockers and busting into opponents' backfields at a torrid pace.
Simmons leads all NFL interior defensive linemen with 7 1/2 sacks. He has five sacks and seven quarterback hits in the past two games in victories over the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints and has 14 quarterback hits and nine tackles for losses overall this season.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound former first-round draft pick from Mississippi State is so good that he's compared favorably to Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“We’ve gone against Aaron Donald and this guy right here is as good as Aaron Donald," Texans coach David Culley said. "He’s one of the best guys in the league in doing that. Obviously, the same thing with Aaron Donald, you try not to leave him in a situation where you are one on one with him very much, but he’s a heck of a player.”
The 8-2 Titans get ready to play Houston and are on a six-game winning streak (see "How to Watch'' here), and Simmons is headlining an aggressive pass rush that has produced 27 sacks for the second-most in the NFL and has eight more sacks than the team produced all of last season.
Defensive end Harold Landry has 10 sacks to rank third in the NFL, and Denico Autry has five sacks.
Signed to a four-year, $12.66 million rookie contract, Simmons is an especially pivotal blocking assignment for an offense that has allowed 26 sacks this season.
“We’ve got to know where he’s at," Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "You hit it right on the head, he’s playing at a very, very high level. He’s as good as any person we’ve played this year. Different than Donald, but disruptive. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s long, he plays hard.
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"He’s physical, so we need to know where he’s at. We need to know how we’re trying to attack him, and we just need to make sure that, again, as an offensive line, as a quarterback, as a running back, everybody’s got a piece of it. We just need to understand the game plan and how we’re going to avoid putting him in positions where he can go and wreck the game.”
Since missing part of his rookie season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Simmons has emerged as the scourge of NFL offenses. He has 115 career tackles and 12 1/2 sacks.
“Very fierce rusher, he’s one of the best in the league," Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "Big human being, moves well, very strong. We definitely have our work cut out (against) him, but have tremendous confidence in our guys to be able to go out and perform at a high level against him.”