May 2, 2007
Doing A Line
by Bob Hulsey
"We need to get to Peyton Manning."
If you’re a Houston Texans fan, this line has been drummed into your head now for almost half a decade. It was used to justify mortgaging half the draft in 2004 for Jason Babin. It was used to justify reaching for Travis Johnson at the top of the 2005 draft. It was used to justify bypassing Vince Young and Reggie Bush to draft Mario Williams first overall in 2006. And it was used to justify selecting Amobi Okoye with Houston’s first pick in 2007.
Congratulations, Bob McNair. You now own the most expensive rush since Tony Montana. And like the cocaine-addled kingpin in the laughably bad 1983 movie Scarface, McNair’s obsession with one thing to the detriment of everything else is preventing the Texans from building a winning team.
Let’s examine the premise here – that having the baddest, nastiest, costliest defensive front four in the history of mankind will lead us to Super Bowl glory. ‘Taint necessarily so.
The first marquee defensive line was the Los Angeles Rams’ "Fearsome Foursome" of the late 1960s. It produced two Hall of Famers. That’s two more than the number of Super Bowl appearances the Rams made.
Next came Minnesota’s "Purple People Eaters" of the 1970s. They also had two Hall of Famers and one perennial All Pro. They made it to the Super Bowl four times. They got beat in all four of them.
Oh, you say, what about the "Steel Curtain" Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s? Four rings, baby! Yeah, but they had only one Hall of Famer on the d-line while having two Hall of Fame linebackers and a Hall of Fame corner.
The 49ers of the 1980s had Fred Dean and Michael Carter but they certainly weren’t the reason you’d think San Francisco was great. The Bears of the 1980s had perhaps the most dominant defense in recent history but they only got to the Super Bowl once. Once. Ditto the Baltimore Ravens. The Cowboy dynasty of the 1990s was better known for bumbling braggart Leon Lett than the quiet stability of Russell Maryland and Tony Casillas.
The Oilers once featured a defensive front of Sean Jones, Ray Childress, William Fuller and Doug Smith. They didn’t so much as sniff an AFC Championship Game.
The Texans’ investment in four #1 draft choices along the front line (not to mention expensive free agent Anthony Weaver) is designed to stop Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. In case you forgot, Manning won this year’s Super Bowl. By the way, after Dwight Freeney, can you name anyone on the Colts’ defensive front four without googling? I didn’t think so.
Manning has a quick release and would be hard to sack under the best of circumstances. And with seemingly nine Colts going out on every pass play, blitzing a guy with a quick release seems rather futile. The best way to defeat them was just the way the Texans did it last December. Get the lead and pound the ball all day so Manning doesn’t see the field.
Our pass rush seems adequate already to defeat the Jaguars. As for the third division rival, Tennessee, you don’t really want to blitz them. Our pass rushers don’t need to find Vince Young. Prince Vince will find them. Encouraging Young to run for it is like encouraging Manning to throw. If the Texans didn’t learn that lesson last year, they’re condemned to repeat it this year.
Maybe those with long memories can remember the first Texan to sack Manning. It was Dunta Robinson in 2004 on a corner blitz. Peyton, say hello to my little friend! Dunta hit Manning from behind and forced a fumble. It’s not his fault that the jerk of an official ruled the play an incomplete forward pass. In my heart, it was always a sack and a fumble.
Robinson now finds himself as the lonely corner in a secondary of scrubs, ignored the way the defensive line has been lavished. He’s probably glad to now have fellow Gamecock Fred Barnett to team with but I think we’d be better off if we finally paired Robinson with a corner who thinks tackling is part of the job description.
I predict that the front four will not sack Manning this year and next April the Texans will spend their first pick on yet another highly-rated underaged defensive lineman from a basketball school with more vowels than consonants in his first name.
Because, "We have to get to Peyton Manning."
If the Texans had invested even a quarter of the resources on their offensive line that they have on their defensive line, David Carr might still be alive today. Instead, the offense hopes to get by with a second-string quarterback, a third-rate offensive line, unintimidating receivers and a flavor-of-the-month running game. As Tony Montana would say, "FAWK!"
We can laugh all we want at Matt Millen and the Detroit Lions for drafting wide receivers first for four straight years but are the Texans any wiser to throw all their money at the defensive line? History will judge.
Bob Hulsey does not encourage drug use or foul language. No quarterbacks were harmed in the making of this column.
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