My quick, one-day trip to Houston to report on the Texans is almost complete, as I’m waiting in the airport to go home. It was nice and informative, and you’ll hear some of what I learned on Sunday morning. Oh, I’ll be back to cover the Texans-Titans game.
One thing I really liked was the explanation of Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillip when the topic of his 3-4 defense came up. The mind behind one of the NFL’s most aggressive, attacking, and effective units explored his methods.
A reporter asked about the production from DE J.J. Watt, who has 5.5 sacks and a whole bunch more. He doesn’t fit the mold of the 3-4 end, which is usually a Richard Seymour-type who takes on two blockers and still manages to get after the passer. Why is that, exactly?
And how does they use Watt?
“First of all we play a different 3-4 than everybody else or most other people, although several of them play it the same one we do now because those guys have coached with me,” Phillips began. “When I started out it was a two-gap defense, the defensive ends had to play two-gap and be able to rush the passer. Well that’s a hard thing to do.”
That’s what teams like the Patriots did when they were a 3-4 team, with big Vince Wilfork in the middle, tying up blockers. It was also designed to allow the linebackers to create. Anyway, Phillips digresses. He was telling us about how he had guys who didn’t exactly fit that, and how he adjusted.
“We had a guy here with the Houston Oilers named Elvin Bethea,” Phillips continued. “We said, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t want to do that with that guy.’ We started stunting the guys and moving them and let them do what they do well, playing a 3-4, but playing a different way, Phillips 3-4 if you want to call it that. I had another guy named Bruce Smith that wasn’t bad at in a 3-4 [Note: Yeah, he was OK]. You can do it with guys, if they have the abilities, then you let them go more. If they don’t then you play a two-gap and just hold your ground all you can and let the linebackers make the plays. It’s all about what kind of players you have and let them do what they do best.”
This is Phillips’ point. That he does have an athletic freak like Watt who can fly past a tackle and still be stout against the run. That’s why, he doesn’t want Watt opening up stuff for others. He wants Watt to be the others.
“We try to get our best players one on one as much as we can,” Phillips continued. “You’re not going to get guys free all the time. You try to get matchups. Pro football is matchups where there are receivers, cornerbacks or d-linemen and offensive linemen and pass rushers, put them on guys that you think they match up well with. J.J. if we can just keep somebody else off of him, he’s got a chance to make plays as do some of our other guys.”
So, anyway, that’s a little explanation of why Phillips does things the way they have. And it’s working, considering Houston’s D is pretty sick. What does Watt think of all this? Well, he tried to downplay it all, saying he simply plays within the defense. I guess. But he does so much in it.
“You got to give Wade the credit for the way they move him around. J.J. a lot of credit for being sharp enough to get moved around and still be a very effective player,” coach Gary Kubiak said.