HOUSTON - The Houston Texans and Jadveon Clowney will always be linked ... and yet another chapter of the often-tumultuous story gets written this weekend.
Sunday’s NFL Week 6 will be the first chance Houston has had to play the former defensive standout as the Texans travel to Tennessee looking to hand the unbeaten division-rival Titans their first loss.
And "disruptive'' figures as a key word here.
Clowney, of course, wasn't on the Texans schedule last season after the team franchise-tagged him and traded him to the Seahawks for a third-round pick, Barkevious Mingo, and Jacob Martin. The Texans struggled to replace Clowney's versatility and sometimes-playmaking ability. The Seahawks seemed to get a typical Clowney season as he varied between wrecking games and quiet box scores.
Surely Tennessee figured a return to his 2017 form for Clowney could be in order when they signed him. Clowney is set to earn up to $15 million from the Titans this year. Mike Vrabel, his current head coach, was the defensive coordinator in Houston in 2017 when Clowney put together his best season statistically. The former top pick put together career highs in sacks, tackles, tackles for a loss, and QB hits that season. It is also the only year Clowney has appeared in 16 games.
Through four games this season, typical Clowney has been on display. He is without a sack ... but second on the Titans in tackles for loss and quarterback hits. A slight addition to his game has popped up as he has already reached last season's passes-defended mark with three so far this year.
Despite the non-exsitent sacks on the stat sheet, Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt knows what his former teammate is capable of doing on gameday.
"He’s a very disruptive player, especially in the run game," Watt said. "He can do just about anything in the run game. He can cut inside. He can cut outside. He can knock a guy back. He can make a massively explosive play in the backfield. He can chase guys down. He’s powerful. He’s quick. He’s fast. He’s a very good player."
Watt said offenses always have to account for Clowney and where he is lined up on the field. He did note Clowney sometimes takes risks to get a big play, but that also can give offenses an opportunity to take advantage of the aggression.
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Deshaun Watson will be the one taking inventory of Clowney's positioning on Sunday.
"You’ve got to control him," said the Texans starting quarterback.
How can the Texans control Clowney?
Said Watson: “You’ve got to get the ball out quick. You’ve got to be able to do things that the ball is out of my hands and getting into space."
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Watson said he got to see Clowney's abilities for two seasons in Houston and pointed to his success in college as well. He echoed Watt's sentiment that attention needs to be paid to Clowney at all times.
"Yeah, he’s a problem, for sure," Watson said.
Houston hopes Clowney's style of attack won’t be too large an issue for Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history changes speeds with the ease of a Formula One car and boasts plenty of power to fend off Clowney's bull rushes. Right tackle Tytus Howard also is physical enough to handle Clowney on the edge, should he get a hold of him. But ... Clowney's speed rushes have given players similar to Howard trouble in the past.
The real concern could Clowney's ability to rush the interior of the Texans offensive line. Despite claiming years ago he didn't like mixing it up with guards and centers, Clowney has often times dominated those positions when attacking offense. His speed is an issue for right guard Zach Fulton and center Nick Martin while his power is the key for him against left guard Senio Kelemete. Considering his struggles this season, using Darren Fells as a blocker might be a net negative for the Texans offense.
The last No. 1 pick on the defensive side of the ball to play his former team was also a Texans draft pick. In 2012 Mario Williams had one sack and seven tackles in a loss by the Bills to the Texans. Houston this week hopes for a similar result against a "disruptive'' presence.