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Mario, Reed, Barwin, And The Need For Creativity From Wade Phillips

When the Texans passed on adding a pass-rushing OLB in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft in favor of DE J.J. Watt of Wisconsin, it was a virtual lock that they would address the need in round two. The Texans made Arizona OLB Brooks Reed the 42nd pick, with the hope that Reed can be an immediate-impact, game-changing rusher off the edge.

Contrary to what you might think from a highly-touted second-rounder (who many projected to be taken in the first) Reed was far from a sack machine at Arizona. In four seasons as a Wildcat, Reed amassed 17 sacks. As a senior, he notched 6.5. Still, when you look game tape, you can see he has the proverbial "relentless motor" and tools to be a consistent rusher in the right system.

With the recent talk of Mario Williams playing the role of pass-rushing OLB in Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4, one has to wonder exactly how and where Reed is going to play once teams are finally allowed to get back on the practice field.

With Mario standing up and rushing the passer on most downs, that leaves the other OLB to be the primary option for picking up coverage on a tight end or running back. On paper, Connor Barwin seems like a better candidate to cover these guys than Reed, though neither one is necessarily a good choice for coverage.

With Mario as the weakside OLB, you'd think that would open the Texans up to predictability, knowing they would want to keep Mario out of coverage situations as often as possible. While the logic there is solid, it's not necessarily true.

I know a lot of Cowboy fans, and Cowboy fans who are not just casual fans, but guys who know football. An important distinction to make regarding Wade's particular 3-4 is that when DeMarcus Ware dropped into coverage, it was rarely if ever to cover a player man-to-man. Most of the time in those rare instances, he was just performing zone coverage duties. 

While we certainly don't want Mario in coverage if at all possible - even in a zone - this distinction opens up possibilities for the Texans assuming their other pass-rushers are as effective as we hope.

When offenses scheme to give extra help to those blocking Mario, the other side of the line will be undermanned, or at worst - the guys helping to chip on the strong side should be guys that either Connor Barwin or Brooks Reed can dispose of.

On the few plays where Mario drops into zone coverage, if Wade Phillips is the defensive guru he is touted (and has proven) to be, this is where his creativity comes in. It almost sounds silly to say this, but if the right people are put in the right positions by Wade, the Texans could actually be in a position to take advantage of Mario Williams having to drop into coverage. Again, that is predicated upon these guys actually being effective pass-rushers.

Now, of course I'm talking about a very small percentage of plays here. But it only takes one mistake by an offense to open the door to a game-changing turnover.

It's hard not to get excited about the possibilities now that the Texans have collected what we are told can be good pass-rushers to compliment Mario Williams. If Mario is truly going to be the starting weakside OLB, then it can't be anything but a good thing that second-rounders Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed will have to compete to see who will take over the strongside... and getting all those guys on the field at the same time in certain situations - yep, that does it for me.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.