Part of the process in becoming a great team in the NFL is finding out what your identity is and playing to your strengths. For almost the entire history of the Texans franchise, their defense wasn't strong enough for them to win low scoring games much less make it their calling card. Seemingly overnight they flipped the switch last season and have transitioned from a team known for their offense with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, to a team known for their defense. "Bulls On Parade" was born last season and if they are to reach their goals and make a deep Super Bowl run, it'll be led by the defense.
I'm not saying their offense is weak or has taken a step back, but I think it's clear that this teams identity is now that of a defensive team. If their defense didn't have the talent, confidence, and leadership that it does, the Texans would have fallen apart last season after Matt Schaub suffered a season ending lisfranc injury. They rose to the occasion instead and shut down the Falcons, shut down the Bengals in the playoffs, and did their part against the Ravens in the divisional round only to have T.J. Yates throw the game away to Ed Reed. Think about the questions going into this season: the right side of the offensive line, Schaub's health, and depth at wide receiver. For the first time that I can ever remember, no one doubts the defense and everyone expects great things from that side of the ball. After watching the first preseason game against Carolina, what were we talking about as negatives? Arian Foster's fumble, Schaub throwing an interception, and the offense not scoring touchdowns in the redzone were all talked about at length on talk shows on Monday. On the opposite side, the starting defense forced two 3 and outs against the Panthers starting offense and held them to just a field goal after being put in a bad spot after the fumble by Foster. Even after the starters went out, they continued to get pressure on the quarterback all game long. Hell, even Kareem Jackson made a few plays that made you stop and start to think about what the defense could do if he ever started to play close to a level worthy of being a 1st round pick.
Even when the Texans have been good on offense, they never gave off a vibe of confidence and swagger that forced you to buy in and believe that this team could go far. They have that now. The confidence, energy, skill, and leadership that Brian Cushing, Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt, Connor Barwin, and Johnathan Joseph bring is infectious and I believe will take this team to the next level. Of course, Wade Philips effect on this can't be ignored either. The Texans would still have their most talented group of defensive players even without him, but his scheme and the respect he garners helps harness that ability like no other defensive coordinator they've ever had.
Sound from practice:
Wade Philips on Whitney Mercilus
Wade Phillips on Antonio Smith