Last weekend’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens left many fans with plenty to be optimistic about. Just one week after losing defensive captain Brian Cushing to a season ending ACL injury and getting absolutely beat down by the Green Bay Packers, the Texans bounced back in a big way to seize soul ownership of the title “Best in the AFC” by taking down the now second place Ravens. Those who watched the Texans-Ravens game were probably pleasantly surprised to see a few of last year’s major contributors play their best game of this season, and in most cases, really show up for the first time all year.
Many of these players reside on the Texan defense, which apparently got the message that all eleven men needed to step up in a big way in the absence of Cushing. The two most notable in this category are OLB Connor Barwin and DE Antonio Smith. Barwin, who led the Texans in 2011 with 11.5 sacks, finally recorded his first of this season in game number 7. Smith, who came into the game with two sacks, picked up another two on consecutive plays in the third quarter. Aside from the sacks (which I believe to be an overrated stat), both Barwin and Smith were all over the field, constantly putting pressure on Ravens QB Joe Flacco to the tune of six combined QB hits (separate from sacks), while making their presence felt in the run game. As opposed to the first six games of the season, both Barwin and Smith were frequently in on plays and were shedding blocks and around the football all afternoon. There is no stat to measure that sort of hustle/activity, simply an eye test that both emphatically passed for the first time all year.
Plenty of defensive players stepped up and had great games, and one cannot overlook CB Johnathan Joseph’s overall play after several weeks of subpar performances. And while the shut down corner plays an iatrical part in the Wade Phillips 3-4 defense, games are won and lost with the front seven. Despite the Texans’ 6-1 record, the D on a whole has been average per their talent. Certain guys have stepped up and played well all season, such as DE J.J. Watt, Cushing, and S Daneal Manning. But Sunday marked the first time that it genuinely appeared to be a group effort. Aside from Barwin and Smith, players such as OLB Brooks Reed, rookie OLB Whitney Mercilus, and S Glover Quin all had their best games of the season. Again, stats only partially do their performances justice, it’s an eye test of watching one man beat the opposing man lined up in front of him play in and play out. The Texans did this across the board against the Ravens. Given that the Ravens have one of, it not the best, offenses the Texans D has faced all season, I’m willing to go on record and say this was the best defensive performance of the 2012 season.
As the season progresses past this week’s bye, the Texans D will have to continue putting up games like they did this past Sunday. The schedule only gets tougher for the Texans after the bye, including a stretch starting November 11 at Chicago where the Texans will play four out of five games on the road. But if the defense continues its cohesive play into the second half, the Texans will be in the drivers seat in the AFC, and perhaps the entire NFL.
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