What Are the Reasonable Expectations for Wade Phillips’ Defense?

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Now that Houston head coach Gary Kubiak has hired former Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips on as defensive coordinator, much speculation has swirled about a possible playoff appearance for the Texans. With an already prolific offense, a good defense could be enough to accomplish that.

But just what are the reasonable expectations for Phillips’ defense in 2011?

As good a coordinator as Phillips is, there’s almost always a transition year for a defense switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

That said, the Texans have a great amount of defensive talent that seems to fit remarkably well into a 3-4. With players like Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, JJ Watt and Antonio Smith, Houston could have enough talent to cover up any first-year deficiencies.

So can Wade Phillips give the Texans what they’ve been missing in their first nine years?

Let’s find out.

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Jason Garrett, an ESPN Blogger’s Opinion

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“First, we have to be fair here, and include everyone. This category seems to fit Garrett based on the difference between the way the Cowboys played under Wade Phillips last season and the way they played after Garrett got the job. He went 5-3 in the final eight games of the season and secured himself a job most people thought he had not shot of retaining when he first got it. It remains to be seen whether he can carry it over into the near and/or distant future, but based on the way Dallas finished the 2010 season, this looks like a winning category for the Cowboys’ new head coach.”

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Are Wade Phillips & the 2011 NFL Draft Prospects the Key for a Houston Texans Playoff Run?

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The Houston Texans had their first ever winning season in 2009 and had a ton of promise entering the 2010 season. The defensive effort was not even close to on par with the offensive, which led to a disappointing 6-10 finish.

Many had picked the Texans as someone to make a deep playoff run, and that topic is trending this year as well with the hiring of Wade Phillips plus a great 2011 draft.

With the 11th overall pick the Texans took Wisconsin defensive end JJ Watt, who was a monster at the NFL Scouting Combine. He showcased athleticism that nobody thought he had and the Texans were lucky that he fell in to their lap.

They expect Mario Williams to make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, so Watt is likely going to become a starter right away.

With their second round pick they got incredible value in Brooks Reed from Arizona. Reed is a guy that many thought would go in to the first round due to his ridiculous time in the 10 yard split. He is a fantastic player that will contribute for the defense that lacked multiple pass rushers last season.

Things just kept getting better and better for the Texans as players seemingly fell in to their laps. Third round pick Brandon Harris was listed as high as a late first rounder and Rashad Carmichael was a late second to early third rounder they ended up with in the fourth round.

Both are good young corners; their pass defense was worst in the NFL and it is clear they knew that going in to the draft—their first five picks and six out of eight were defensive players.

However, one knock against Harris is that he can’t read routes well and often gets confused in zone coverage. That is something he will have to work on if he wants to become the full time Nickel cornerback.

What Harris struggled at Carmichael seemed to excel at, as most people pegged him as a better zone coverage guy. It is not out of the question that the Texans could move Glover Quinn to safety, start Harris opposite Kareem Jackson, and play Carmichael as the Nickel corner.

Are these defensive players the key to the Texans making the playoffs in 2011? Well, when you play in a division with Peyton Manning, it can’t hurt to stockpile defensive players.

Wade Phillips is the key to putting it all together. While he was no good as a head coach everywhere he went, he has been a well respected and excellent defensive coordinator. His 3-4 defenses nearly always ranked near the top of the league.

Every time he’s taken over as a team’s coordinator they’ve shown drastic improvements. With how amazing the Texans’ offense is, it will take only an above average defense to take them to the next level.

Expect to see the Texans in the playoffs next year.

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DeMeco Ryans a leader for Texans

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HOUSTON — Houston Texans middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans has assumed a pivotal dual role for his team as the NFL lockout stretches into its fourth month.

Ryans is one of the Texans’ player representatives, along with right tackle Eric Winston, responsible for keeping his teammates abreast of developments in the ongoing labor dispute.

And since coaches aren’t allowed to have contact with players for now, Ryans has undertaken the job of teaching new coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme to the defense — which ranked as one of the league’s worst in 2010.

“I’m just doing my part, man,” Ryans said with a smile.

Many of his teammates have come to Houston to do the same, with 35 players participating in a voluntary practice for about 80 minutes on Monday morning at Rice University.

Quarterback Matt Schaub, defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker Brian Cushing were among the starters who joined Ryans at the workout, the first of three this week. Draft picks Shiloh Keo, Brooks Reed and T.J. Yates also practiced.

Schaub led the players through a series of warm-up drills before the group split up, according to their positions. They mostly scrimmaged, without pads, for most of the last half of the practice.

“For us to be out here as a team, a group of guys choosing to be here, in the long-term will serve us good,” Schaub said.

Ryans is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon that sidelined him for the last 10 games of last season. He referred to a playbook during the practice, and repeated calls to ensure that the players understood.

“It’s important for us to get out here and get the guys some looks at our different offensive sets, and try to do our adjusting,” Ryans said. “I think we are getting more comfortable with the terminology that we’re using. The more reps you get, the better you get it.”

But as much benefit as the team workouts provide, Schaub concedes that every NFL team will need extended training camp with coaches to properly prepare for the season.

Ryans says he’s “encouraged” about what he believes are constructive meetings. But he offered no timeline for when he thought a new deal might be struck, only that he believes progress is being made toward ending the lockout that began March 12.

“It’s not about getting a deal done as quickly as possible,” Ryans said, “it’s about getting a fair deal done. Whenever that time comes, when a fair deal is on the table, that’s when it will get done. We’re not in a big panic to get something done, just for the sake of getting it done.”

Keo, a safety picked in the fifth round, says he’s trying to put the lockout out of his mind. He’s more concerned with learning the defense from Ryans and impressing his new teammates.

“I want to be updated on it every day, but I want to keep my head out of it,” Keo said. “When I come out here, I want to be focused on the drills, meeting the guys, getting to know them, and performing. I’m not here to just wait for the lockout to end. I’m here to get work done early.”

The Texans’ defense, particularly the secondary, needs as much practice as it can get, with or without coaches. Houston ranked last in pass defense last season (268 yards per game) and produced only 13 interceptions.

Kareem Jackson, often the scapegoat for Houston’s secondary issues last year, and fellow cornerback Glover Quin were both at Monday’s workout.

Quin will move to safety in Phillips’ defensive alignment. He said the team practices are crucial in helping the Texans learn the system.

“You kind of have to look at a playbook and say, ‘OK, I think this is what they (the coaches) kind of want us to do,” Quin said. “But it will also help us out, because when we do go in, when they make a call, we’ll kind of know exactly what we have to do. We just need to figure out the technique they want us to play in.

“But if they give us a normal call, it’s not like it’s a foreign language anymore,” Quin said. “We’ve had to teach ourselves. When you teach yourself, you pick up on it, you find ways that you can understand it, and when the coaches teach it, it just makes even more sense.”

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Wade Phillips takes a shot at Saban and his coaching ability

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New Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more or less agrees with conventional wisdom regarding his new team’s defense.  He likes the front seven, but he’s not sure about the team’s secondary.

Starting with last year’s first-round pick, Kareem Jackson.

“I think technique-wise he needs a lot of work,” Phillips told John McLain of the Houston Chronicle. “I guess he was able to play at Alabama without a lot of technique without worrying about staying low enough or moving his feet, those kinds of things. I think that caught up with him. I think we can coach him. We’ll drill him enough that we’ll go over and over and over.”

A lot of the talk about the Texans defense this offseason has centered around the front seven. Brian Cushing will move inside, Mario Williams will play linebacker, and DeMeco Ryans is getting healthy.

But Phillips likes that talent and believes Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell are better than people think on the defensive line.  The biggest question remains in the secondary, which the team figures to address in free agency.

More than anything, they need Jackson and this year’s second round pick Brandon Harris to come through.

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Kubiak keeps focus on defensive needs (Wade’s job)

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With the draft less than one month away, Texans coach Gary Kubiak does not try to fool anyone who asks what area needs the most improvement.

“We have to improve our defense,” Kubiak said. “You have no chance to be successful if you can only win one way. We can win a game 34-31, but we’ve got to get our team in position to win 10-7 if we have to.

“Look at Green Bay; they could beat you by scoring 30 or 35. But they can beat you 9-0. When you show up on game day, you don’t know if it’s going to be an offensive day, a defensive day or a special-teams day, but if you don’t have the ability to win in all three of those areas you’re not going to be very consistent.

“That’s got to be something in our players’ minds.”

Going into last season, Kubiak said the Texans had to improve the running game and red-zone offense if they wanted to elevate their 9-7 record in 2010. They had finished 30th in rushing, 12th in red-zone touchdowns and 25th in red-zone points.

Last season, the Texans were seventh in rushing because Arian Foster led the NFL with 1,626 yards. They improved to fifth in red-zone touchdowns and second in red-zone points. But their record dropped to 6-10, including a 2-8 finish, because the defense was horrendous – 30th overall, including 32nd against the pass.

“Last year at this time, a lot of people were patting us on the back,” Kubiak said. “Obviously, nobody’s patting us on the back right now.

“We’ve got to be tough-minded and get our butts back to work and get it done. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kubiak fired defensive coordinator Frank Bush and replaced him with Wade Phillips, who is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Because of the labor situation, no one knows when free agency will begin, so teams must target needs in the draft.

Hit hard by injuries

Last season, the Texans had their three best defensive players — middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, outside linebacker Brian Cushing and end Mario Williams – playing together for 1½ games.

Cushing was suspended the first four games. Ryans was lost for the season in the seventh game after a 4-2 start. Williams missed the last four games. Plus, the Texans lost their second-best pass rusher, defensive end Connor Barwin, to a season-ending injury in the first game.

“That contributed a lot, but it’s not an excuse for how poorly we played,” Kubiak said about the defense. “We started well (4-2), and then we lost our leadership (Ryans). We lost the guy they all look to.”

Ryans is still undergoing rehab for surgery to repair his ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Williams is healthy after having surgery for two sports hernias. Barwin is still rehabbing his broken ankle. All are expected to be ready for training camp.

Questions, questions

“The question is, does Connor play the strong side or weak side?” Kubiak said. “We were counting on him huge last year. We’ve put in packages for him. We’re looking forward to him coming back and seeing what he does with Wade.”

The two most pressing needs are another outside linebacker who can rush the passer and a cornerback. The Texans also can use a free safety. If they get the cornerback they want, they can move Glover Quin to free safety.

“I think he can, but he’s our best corner,” Kubiak said about Quin switching positions. “Until we feel comfortable out there, we’re not going to move him and create another issue.

“What we get done in the offseason will have a lot to do with where he lines up because he’s still the best corner on our team.”

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Wade Phillips to coach the West team

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Practice starts today for the East West Shrine Bowl game that will be played next Saturday. Wade Phillips is coming the west. Some notable players
Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M
Greg Smith, TE, Texas
Jonathan, Nelson SS, Oklahoma
Aldrick Robinson, WR, SMU

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Rob Ryan?

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Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the National Football Post are among several sources claiming the Dallas Cowboys are hammering out a contract to make Rob Ryan the team’s new defensive coordinator.

He’ll bring a wide variety of influences to the team.  His dad, Buddy Ryan, developed the attacking ”46” scheme for the ’80s Bears and Eagles.  He assisted Bill Belichick for a year in New England.

If his Cowboys defenses bear any resemblance to his brother Rex’s Jets, look for lots of overload blitzing and lots of pre-snap movement.  The Ryans can produce results with scheme, something Wade Phillips’ system failed to do early this year.  Look at Rex’s Jets.  They’re in the divisional round for the second consecutive season and the Jets do not have a big-time rusher on par with a Demarcus Ware of a John Abraham.  Bryan Thomas led the Jets this year with 6.0 sacks.

Ryan’s addition will likely lead to a world-wide search for better safeties.  Ryan plays a different high wire act from Wade Phillips, but he relies on his corners and secondary players to work in man just as much. The inability of the Cowboys deep duo to protect Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman made those two look worse than they were.

In any case, fasten your seatbelts.  The Jason Garrett Era is about to get a lot more colorful.

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Is Jason Garrett the Long-Term Answer For the Dallas Cowboys?

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At the press conference announcing Jason Garrett as the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Garrett was asked a question about his authority to make coaching staff decisions.  Before he could respond, Jerry Jones leapt to his feet and took the podium to field the question.

Cowboy fans, already concerned about how much power Garrett will have, must have been thinking that it was going to be the same old story with Jones.  But what followed the awkward interruption was something totally unexpected.

Jones stated, “Jason will have the final say on any person that leaves the coaching staff or comes to the coaching staff.  There won’t be a player on this team that Jason doesn’t want on the team.”

It would be easy to attribute what Jones said to the lip service that is known for, but there was something in the way that he said it that made it seem different than his usual sales pitch.  Although I was initially in favor of locking up a high-profile coach and cleaning house entirely, the press conference has changed my mind.

When Jerry bought the team and hired Jimmy Johnson, it was all about starting fresh.  They were a good pairing, but not a great one because both of them craved the spotlight.

Barry Switzer, on the other hand, seemed to be thrilled to get back into coaching, and was more than willing to let Jerry take center stage.

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