Conspiracy Theory: The Defensive Line
In this series we look at the moves the Houston Texans have made since the free agency period and during the draft and let you know what is “really” going on at Reliant and with the team in 2012.
We’ve heard it before: “In a Wade Phillips’ one-gap 3-4 defensive scheme, a big beastly nose tackle isn’t a necessity.” It may not be a “necessity,” but wouldn’t it be better? Our current starting NT Shaun Cody himself initially expressed some reservation about his role and size to get the job done as the new defense was implemented in 2011. Cody is 6’4″, 301 lbs., while a typical 3-4 NT is around 330 lbs. Cody’s a decent lineman, just perhaps not a perfect fit within the Texans scheme. He catches some heat from fans when ends and backers have to step in to further clog running lanes and doesn’t get to the passer very often at all. Obviously our defensive ends are solid for 2012: Antonio Smith (signed through 2013) and J.J. Watt (signed through 2014) are about as unyielding in their spots flanking Cody as any fan could wish.
We also have Earl Mitchell, who notably bulked up from 287 to 308 in the offseason and who rotated in the position with Cody throughout 2011, splitting the duties almost 50/50. Mitchell has more quickness and while he can play the spot, the fans still clamored for a bigger (read HUGE) guy to block the lane. The fact of the matter is, Cody and Mitchell were good enough to contribute to the Texans 4th ranked run defense, but in the long term, are their contributions a help or a hindrance?
The 3-4 NT position has been called the most physical in football and one of the hardest to fill. In Phillips’ single-gap scheme the Texans claimed they weren’t looking for a big blocky NT through the draft or free agency. Yet in through the Undrafted Free Agent door walks Hebron”Loni” Fangupo (6’1″, 323 lbs., and strong, lifting 36 reps of 225 lbs. at the 2012 NFL Combine), the biggest and blockiest defensive tackle available for the cost. The thing is, Fangupo is the complete opposite type of NT Phillips has employed in the past, which means the question is “why did Phillips/Kubiak/Smith bring Fangupo in and what’s up their collective sleeves? This is where the Texans 2012 Defensive Line begins its new look with an eye toward the future and the future is looking very Fangupo friendly.
- Cody’s 3 year contract with the Texans ends at the end of the 2012 season and we’re looking at a future uncertain for Cody but ripe with possibility for Fangupo, and to a lesser degree Mitchell. In regard to Shaun Cody, he has been in the league seven seasons, only produced 3 career sacks and never more than 25 tackles in a season. Most NTs in a 3-4 scheme put up Cody’s career numbers in a single season.
- See the financials. Cody is making $2 Million this year. The average NT earns about $1.26 Million. We are getting below average production but paying an above average price. If a rookie like Fangupo can step in and make 20 tackles, eat up blockers and a sack each year of his rookie contract, we’re getting better production for less money. It’s a smart financial move.
- In regard to Mitchell, while he’s taken near 50% of the plays at the position, he had only 1 sack and 14 tackles in 2011. He just doesn’t seem to be cut out for our NT needs. The bonus with Mitchell is that he is moveable within our scheme. He’s pretty light (still) and quick for a NT and could fit more easily as a defensive end or even has the possibility to be traded.
- And now the pros for Fangupo. He’s a huge guy. He can clog a running lane by just being his enormous, ridiculously strong, unmoveable self. While Cody and Mitchell have shown issues blocking their one gap, Fangupo has the size and strength to not only ensure his single gap gets blocked, but can likely get his hands on one of the other blockers and slow him up significantly as well.
- Another positive for Fangupo is looking at how well young players have flourished under Phillips. Look at what he did with J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed, two guys who came out of college with some doubters but who produced and big under Phillips.
All signs within the offices at Reliant are pointing to a future filled with Loni Fangupo. Keeping Cody around this year to close out his contract makes sense, as he is serviceable in the position and could provide the mentorship the UDFA Fangupo needs to become a professional. After 2012, however, Cody would likely be more beneficial to another team. Keeping Mitchell on the D Line either as an end or eventually backing up Fangupo or both also makes sense. As does ultimately trading Mitchell if he is unable to contribute to the level of Fangupo or recent draftee Jared Crick, since Mitchell would have some trade value on the open market. As Tim Jamison took 30% of the defensive snaps in 2011, we’re not seeing him going anywhere, potentially leaving Mitchell the odd-man out. This is the future, Texans fans. As secretive as the organization is, rest assured they are looking to keep our second-ranked defense fresh and need to avoid the dreaded “year two Phillips defense dropoff.” Inserting the ginormous Fangupo into the middle of the mix makes perfect sense to achieve this goal.
Discuss amongst yourselves and share your views. We are interested to hear what Texans Nation thinks about the issue of the future of the Defensive Line of the Houston Texans.
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