1-on-1 with Alan Ball
When J.J. Watt and the rest of his defensive mates showed up to Reliant Stadium on Monday morning, things were a whole lot simpler.
For the month previous, they worried about winning the division, playoff scenarios, whether or not they were going to be playing a game on Wild Card Weekend. Turns out, they are. And instead of treating that as the terrible fate it appears to be from the outside, the Texans are using it as motivation to get back to what made them a great defense in the first place.
“We’re at an all-time high. We’re ready to roll,” Watt said. “This is the NFL playoffs. Twelve teams, one goal. That’s it. You lose, you go home. You win, you go on. At the end of this one month and one week there’s going to be one team standing with a trophy in their hands. And we want that to be us.”
Win or go home.
If that’s not enough to push a team back into doing what made it great, then nothing is.
So when the defense arrived at the stadium on Monday, Watt and a few other defense leaders, whom Watt refused to name, talked about it. They talked about forgetting the past month, when the Texans lost three of four and the top seed in the AFC. They talked about getting back to playing the kind of defensive football that shot Houston out to an 11-1 start to the 2012 season.
“It’s something that when we came in on Monday, we said ‘we’re flipping the mentality,’” Watt said on Tuesday, four days before the Bengals come to town. “Nobody’s going to come in here … nobody’s going to be down about the loss. Nobody’s going to worry about what happened in the last month. It’s playoff time and all we’re going to worry about is this game, having fun, playing like the Texans and doing what we do best.”
After starting off the season as one of the most feared defenses in the league, the Texans are now the seventh ranked defense in the NFL, giving up 323.3 yards per game. The Texans’ defense has given up more than that in five of its last seven games.
“We maybe lost a little bit of our confidence,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “(There was) a lack of focus the last month of the season. I think it was just what everybody’s knows. Just get back to who we are, be who we are, have fun and stop over-thinking, worrying about scenarios or what’s going to happen and just get back to having fun like we did the first three quarters of the season.”
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the decline of the once mighty Houston Texans’ defense is that it hasn’t happened across the board. At times, this defense looks like the one that catapulted the team to the hottest start in football and at other times … well, it doesn’t.
The Texans have given up six pass plays of 60-plus yards this season, tying them with the Redskins for the most in the NFL. All six of those plays have, not surprisingly, come after Week 10.
But the problem with the Texans isn’t just a decline in play. Sure it didn’t help to lose Brian Cushing and it certainly won’t help that they’ve now lost another linebacker in Darryl Sharpton. But the Texans’ defense is plenty talented. Perhaps what they were missing most was their bravado. That’s what the defensive leaders tried to stress. And so far, they say it’s working.
“It’s the playoffs so everything is stepped up,” Barwin said. “You can tell everyone is a little more locked in. You can tell the theme is getting your groove back and being who we are.”
Watt said the entire team, especially the defense, had a great day of practice on Tuesday. Players were flying around, making plays. They looked like the Bulls on Parade again.
“We lost three out of four but we came out this week with a goal in mind to change our outlook,” Watt said. “On defense, we want to get back to Bulls on Parade. Get back to swarming on defense, making plays, just having fun. We want to have fun and out at practice today, you could tell there was a little bit of fun out there.”
Now’s as good a time as any.