Houston's defense finally all together

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
9:05
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Among the questions about the Houston Texans' defense as the NFL season kicks off is this: After a great gain last year, will there be some regression?

Football Outsiders expects a drop off. They predict the Texans will be 15th in their defensive ratings.

The Texans begin to show us how they’ll be Sunday against Miami, and they will be at full strength.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jerome Miron/US PresswireHouston coach Gary Kubiak said J.J. Watt has been "excellent" in practice heading into Sunday's season opener.
Three key players -- end J.J. Watt (elbow), inside linebacker Brian Cushing (ribs) and nose tackle Shaun Cody (back) -- played sparingly or not at all in the preseason.

They are good to go now, but may be kicking some rust off this week in preparations.

Watt was injured early and didn’t suit up for any of the four games. The Texans will monitor how much he plays.

“Well, I don’t want to say a play count, but there’s no reason for him to go out there and play 70 plays,” coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters Wednesday. “I think we know that. That’s on me and Wade [Phillips] and [defensive line coach] Bill [Kollar] to make sure. But watching practice, he’s been excellent. I watched one-on-ones today, he was excellent. He looks like J.J. I know he’s going to be battling us to take every play but I think it’s smart of us to make sure that we bring him along the right way.”

Cody and Cushing won’t necessarily have the same limitations. Cody missed three preseason games, Cushing two.

“Well they’re a little different; they did play some in the preseason, so I would say they’re a little further ahead from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to rotate Shaun anyway. Earl [Mitchell] has had a great preseason. Mister [Alexander] has had a great preseason; he’ll have to spell Cush some. I think we’re going to play a lot of people, regardless.

“This is the week where every team goes past a point they haven’t been to yet, as far as how many plays you play and the first team and that type of thing. We’re going to rotate players. We’re going to keep fresh guys on the field. We’ve got confidence in all of them.”

Said Watt: “It feels good. It feels good to have the defense at full strength, have the guys you’re familiar with, the guys you’re used to. We all know each other so well it’s fun and the defense really jells well.”

The expectation is that a defense that regularly swarmed quarterbacks last year will have a big day against rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

He’s certainly not expecting a team that’s regressing to the mean defensively.

“They don’t have as many exotic pressures and zone blitzes as you will see from other teams, but they’re really good at what they do,” Tannehill said in a conference call. “They believe [in] what they do and they’re crisp at it.

“So, it’s not a situation where they have so much in that they’re not good at it, or you’re going to catch them at something that they're not really comfortable with and do a whole lot. So they really trust, like I said earlier, in their players and they believe in their one-on-one matchups.”

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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