Defensive play was the Achilles heel of the Houston Texans in 2020. In 2021, in a transition over to a new 4-3 base front, newly-appointed defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has a plan of action to take a step forward this year.
That approach might have to involve a bit of a "high school mentality."
"I still believe in the basic fundamentals of football, the team with the best fundamentals wins," Smith during an interview with John Harris of HoustonTexans.com. "The team that plays the hardest. I know that it's the NFL but you can be in the NFL and have a college mentality, high school mentality of just playing hard, getting guys to buy into that."
Fundamentals were an area the Texans' defense was criticized for in 2020, ranking sixth in missed tackles (125), first in total rushing yards allowed (2,564), second in rushing touchdowns allowed (24), third in total yards allowed (6,668), and 32nd in defensive takeaways (9).
"One area of improvement that we have to make here with the Houston Texans, we had nine takeaways last year; you can't win football games that way," Smith said. "There will be an emphasis on that daily, by playing to get better in that area."
It isn't just takeaways that Smith will be focusing on come training camp. Although the NFL has turned into a pass-first league, the veteran coach is well aware of Houston's struggles to contain the run.
"You have to be able to stop the run," said Smith. "We're going to start with just that, stopping the run. If we can play the run better, and take the ball away more, be better on third-down conversions, things that lead to points that's a good starting spot."
Houston addressed the defensive trenches in free agency with the acquisitions of Maliek Collins, Vincent Taylor, Jaleel Johnson and DeMarcus Walker, and others. It seems the Texans as a whole are emphasizing the importance of bulking up their front line to contain the middle.
A common theme across the roster is building depth at each position for competition. The best man for the job by the end of camp will earn the start.
It's a quality Smith appreciates.
"How we're going to accomplish that (improvement) is through competition," Smith said. "I like to talk about a lot of guys by name, but the good thing about a new staff coming in [is] everybody has a chance to prove exactly who they are. We don't have a depth chart that's written in ink yet. We're going to go with what we see on the football field [and] that should bring out the best in us all."
In theory, competition should bring out the best in a roster filled with players on short-term deals, playing for not only a spot on the roster but a longer and more profitable deal.
Combine this with a "high school mentality" and, hopefully, Houston defense should take the necessary steps in the right direction.
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