The Houston Texans' defense was statistically one of the worst in the NFL in 2020. Safety Justin Reid is clearly all too aware of their deficiencies last season ... but is optimistic about the changes heading their way.
"The defense, it just wasn’t tight enough," said Reid on Friday. "Too many holes, too many pitch-and-catches. We tried to put some emphasis on the ball but we didn’t do a good enough job last year, plain and simple.
"We were one of the bottom tiers in the league."
Starting with the arrival of Nick Caserio as general manager and David Culley as head coach earlier this year, it was the appointment of Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator that really paved the way for an entire re-imagination of this Texans defense. It's time to prepare for Smith's famous 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme.
"The first thing that coach Smith came in and said, and he put up on the big presentation during an OTA meeting, was we’re going to get the ball," said Reid of Smith.
"That’s been an emphasis in every meeting that they’ve talked about. We have target goals on how many times we even want to punch the ball. This is the first time I’ve seen it to where we’re tracking just strips attempts, punch attempts – tracking all of that. Really trying to put an emphasis on guys to go after the ball and create turnovers because those are game-changing situations.”
Smith had discussed in a recent press conference how the Texans' lack of turnovers in 2020 was something they would have to work on immediately once training begins.
"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."
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But it isn't just the defense's focus on turnovers that will be affected by Smith's arrival. The scheme he will be implementing thrusts vastly different requirements upon many of his playmakers than Houston's 3-4 defense of recent years.
"The linebackers are definitely the emphasis," said Reid of the change in scheme. "It’s the same system that NaVorro Bowman and all these guys – the linebackers are going to make a lot of plays, but with the pressure that we’re putting up front and with the linebackers creating pressure, it’s going to create opportunities on the back end, too. If we can speed up the quarterback to get the ball out quickly, that’s going to allow the backend DBs to be aggressive and make some plays on the ball, too."
And by all accounts, Reid is excited to get started in this new formation after a disappointing 2020 season.
"I like that the coverage is tighter than it was a year ago," said Reid. "Last year felt like it was almost a little too zone'y, too many gaps, but the coverages this year are a lot more tight, which I’m excited about. It’s the system that I’m used to."
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And it isn't just Reid who is excited to get started with a fresh approach.
Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus spoke to Aaron Wilson at his charity dodgeball event on Saturday about the move to 4-3. Mercilus explained that he played in this scheme back in college and that he liked the "just see the ball, go get the ball" approach it allows.
So if nothing else, it appears the Texans' defense in 2021 should be both more aggressive and forceful in creating turnovers. Whether that will work or not given the extensive turnover in playing staff that has gone on already this offseason remains to be seen.
However, hearing leaders on this defense getting excited about change can only be a positive moving forward.