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Group effort will be needed by Texans to replace OLB Williams

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Oct. 10, 2011 @ 3:19 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

A sloppy, 25-20 defeat to the Raiders wasn't the only loss for the Texans on Sunday.

According to Houston Chronicle reporter and PFW Texans correspondent John McClain, Houston's best defensive player, OLB Mario Williams, suffered a season-ending pectoral injury while making his team-leading fifth sack of the season on Raiders QB Jason Campbell.

Rookie second-rounder Brooks Reed, who replaced Williams in the first quarter Sunday, will step into the starting lineup.

The PFW Spin

The hits keep coming for the Texans, who lost Williams one week after their best offensive player, WR Andre Johnson, suffered a slightly torn hamstring that will keep him on the shelf for at least a few weeks.

Williams has been Houston's best pass rusher since the day he was drafted first overall in 2006. In his first season as an outside linebacker, he was thriving under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The Texans, thus far, have received minimal contributions from their '11 draft class, with the exception of starting DLE J.J. Watt, who has been better than advertised. That will have to change, with Reed now being thrown into the fire.

Reed drew rave reviews from the team throughout training camp and the preseason, outperforming starting SOLB Connor Barwin. But that was the preseason, and Reed must go from playing primarily on special teams and sporadically in passing downs to becoming a full-time player. The effort and energy won't be an issue; he has a similar motor and passion for the game as Watt. But Reed isn't going to require game-planning from opponents like Williams did, which will make life harder on the rest of the "D."

Barwin, who has been rather quiet, recording 12 tackles and a pair of sacks in the first five weeks, needs to pick it up. The Texans hold him in high regard as a pass rusher, and now would be the time to show why. ILBs Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, both of whom played tremendously in Week Five, need to keep this unit together and build off their great performances against Oakland. Watt and DRE Antonio Smith, who has been the team's defensive MVP through the first five games, must find a way to maintain their disruptive ways with additional blockers who were focused on Williams turning their attention toward them. Second-year reserve ILB Darryl Sharpton is a very talented guy who also will take on a bigger role.

The bottom line is that Williams can't be replaced by one player; the entire unit must pick it up.

The same can be said for Phillips, who has worked wonders turning around this defense and will have to be that much better with his most dangerous weapon no longer at his disposal.

Phillips loves to bring pressure, but he has relied mainly on his front seven to harass QBs in the early going. It is likely he now will have to take even more chances sending blitzing DBs to compensate for the loss of Williams. FS Danieal Manning, in particular, has the athleticism and tackling ability to get after the QB. Phillips isn't known for using overly complicated or exotic blitzes. But there is definitely quite a bit he hasn't shown yet, and we expect to see him reach into his bag of tricks, perhaps sooner than he would have liked, now that Williams is gone.

It won't get easier for the Texans, who travel to Baltimore and Tennessee in Weeks Six and Seven, respectively. But they had the foresight to draft Reed in April and made a great hire in Phillips, a bright defensive mind with the ability to find ways to create pressure even without Williams. While things are far from ideal in Houston right now, there is little question the Texans are in better position to weather this type of storm than they have been in recent years.  

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