Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans: 2023 Defense Overview

The Texans are hoping for health and rapid improvement from CB Derek Stingley, Jr.
The Texans are hoping for health and rapid improvement from CB Derek Stingley, Jr. Photo by Jack Gorman
The hope for fans with any NFL head coach is that, at the very least, his team is proficient on the side of ball where his expertise is. For example, offensive-upbringing head coach Gary Kubiak's Texans teams were largely average, but they were also largely very good offensively. Conversely, Bill O'Brien was an offensive head coach whose offenses never finished top ten in scoring. Ever.

With DeMeco Ryans, a former standout linebacker and a great defensive coordinator, the hope is that the Texans show rapid improvement on defense in 2023. So as we prepare for training camp in a few weeks, let's look at a thumbnail sketch on what Ryans has to work with on the Texans' defense:


4. Maliek Collins, DT
With his two-year, $23 million contract extension signed a few weeks ago, Collins becomes the first player given TWO contracts under GM Nick Caserio, which says something about what Collins means to the defense on the field and in the locker room. Collins should fit well with what Ryans wants to do up front, and if he can minimize the penalties (his personal Achilles heel), he will be one of the better values at defensive tackle in the AFC.

3. Derek Stingley, Jr.
Last season, Stingley flashed occasionally in coverage, but for the most part, it was disappointing to Texans fans to watch the way he was used by Lovie Smith in the zone heavy, Tampa-two scheme. It also didn't help that Stingley injured a hamstring and missed half the season. Now, Stingley comes into 2023 with a clear renewed focus in the weight room (i.e. he looks ripped), and preparing to play in a scheme that should highlight the reasons he was the third overall pick in the 2022 draft.

2. Jalen Pitre, S
Taken near the top of the second round in 2022, Pitre was a fixture in the secondary all season long. His rookie year had some very encouraging ups (five interceptions, 125 tackles) and some very frustrating but fixable downs (a few dozen missed tackles). With the presence of Jimmie Ward at the other safety spot, I think Pitre is primed for a big jump in his sophomore NFL season.

1. Will Anderson, DE
They traded all that draft capital for Anderson for a reason — they think he can be a special edge rusher, and a tone setter behind the scenes for the next decade. Anderson's energy level has been quite evident throughout the spring portion of the offseason, and it should be fun to see Anderson once the pads go on. He had 34.5 sacks at the collegiate level. Anderson needs to work on some of the finer points of pass rushing at the NFL level, and he will be working out of a three point stance more in the NFL, but whatever he is uncomfortable doing at first, he will work hard to get comfortable quickly.

ACHILLES HEEL: Until otherwise established, the run defense
The Texans gave up 2,894 yards rushing last season, the worst in the NFL in 2022, and one of the worst totals in league history. Ryans' Niners defense gave up just 1,321 yards rushing, second lowest total in the league. Total unscientific bargaining here, but if you split the difference between those two, that's around 2,100 yards rushing allowed, which would be good for 18th in the league last season. I would take that improvement in a heartbeat.

SECRET WEAPON: Henry To'o To'o, LB
The rookie linebacker, and fifth round pick, out of Alabama got unprompted praise from GM Nick Caserio on my radio show a couple weeks ago. According to Caserio, To'o To'o is picking up the nuances of Ryans' defense at a rapid pace, and his play recognition acumen is off the charts. The Texans brought in some veteran bodies to play inside linebacker, but it looks like To'o To'o could get on the field early.

BIG QUESTION: Who calls the plays?
Ryans ' skill level in calling defensive plays and schemes was on display weekly in San Francisco the last couple seasons. Put simply, they were the best defense in football. All of the innate instincts that Ryans displayed as a player manifested themselves as a coordinator, as well. I think most Texans fans are hoping Ryans will be the one calling plays for the Texans' defense, but when he was recently asked about it, it sounded like Ryans was still trying to figure out exactly how much delegation would be going on. This is new turf for him, and he doesn't need to decide quite yet.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast