By Brien O’Donal
Follow me on Twitter @ODonalsVanguard
Injuries in the NFL are a part of life. Players do everything they can to avoid them or return quickly when they happen. Teams try to keep the most talented depth they can afford in case injuries cause an extended absence by a player. The Houston Texans are now facing a situation that no team wants to have to overcome; the loss of two star players at the same time.
Sunday night J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were lost for the season. Those two represent a big part of what they do defensively, particularly in the pass rush. While there is decent depth behind them, it’s impossible to fully replace their productivity. This applies a lot to the loss of Watt because of the attention he commands from the opposing offensive line.
While they can’t be replaced, their loss can be mitigated by signing free agents to short term deals hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. The Texans did that this week by signing Lamarr Houston and Kendall Langford to fill the open positions.
Lamarr Houston was once a promising pass rusher with the Oakland Raiders, but half way through the 2014 season he tore an ACL. He suffered the same injury to his other knee in 2016. That history is probably what made teams hesitant to sign him so he was available and waiting for a phone call.
Kendall Langford was an every game starter for many years in the NFL until a knee injury ended his 2016 season early and hampered his production in the offseason. He was available after being released by the Colts and the Saints.
These two will be expected to provide relief for Texans defenders who moved up the depth chart due to the loss of Watt and Mercilus. But from where I sit, I don’t see a lot of promise in these signings.
Lamarr Houston’s history of major knee injuries has to have sapped his play-making ability. And if Langford couldn’t make it on the Saints or Colts, you have to wonder if he would be more of a liability. But there are no great pass rushers available at this point in free agency. If anyone available were deemed good enough to help a roster, they would be on a roster. The Texans are just trying to get bodies that may be able to contribute a few snaps a game in relief. If that plan works then there’s a chance they can keep the defensive machine working at a decent level.
I don’t think much will be asked of the new free agents but Romeo Crennel and Mike Vrabel will have to coach their butts off to ensure the defense doesn’t fall completely off a cliff. They survived without J.J. Watt in 2016, in part because Mercilus stepped up his game. Now that both are lost it will be up to players like Brennan Scarlet, Joel Heath, and Christian Covington to close the gap as much as they can. The Texans’ offense seems to have come to life it would be bad to have the 2016 #1 defense be the reason they can’t get over the hump again.