The Texans aren't the only AFC South club that has undergone a dramatic defensive turnaround this season.
In Jacksonville, GM Gene Smith, who added a number of key pieces in the offseason, and defensive coordinator and interim head coach Mel Tucker, the defensive play-caller for the first time during his three-year stint with the club, took a "D" that in 2010 allowed the most points and yards in franchise history and turned it into a top-five stop unit. The Jaguars' change of course has gone largely unnoticed because the offense has been so bad, but the defense has more than held up its end of the bargain.
While things constantly change around him — from teammates to head coach to owner — stalwart SLB Daryl Smith, the leader of the defense, continues to be a model of consistency for the Jaguars. As a starter in 121-of-123 career games, Smith told PFW this week how much pride he has taken in the performance of the defense in 2011.
"Since Day One, we came in and talked about establishing a brand of football where the fans know that we're always going to run and hit and be relentless to the ball," he said. "… We focus on executing to the best of our abilities. And when we're able to do that, we're able to get off the ball and get off the field."
Smith raved about Gene Smith's offseason additions, saying players like MLB Paul Posluszny and Smith's college teammate, S Dawan Landry, have allowed the defense to trust each other more and play faster. The simplification of the scheme by Tucker — Smith estimated Tucker has cut the amount of defensive calls in half — also has paid big dividends.
The eighth-year veteran, who turns 30 in March, greatly regrets not getting more wins to boost Tucker's résumé, however.
"I've been with Tuck for three years now, and I'm really angry that we couldn't get those wins for him. Everybody is fighting, though. … He came in and he hasn't changed, he is the same type of coach and he had a calming effect on all of us [when things were really crazy].
"It's just sad that we haven't been able to execute on all the opportunities we've had to win ballgames for him, but I think he has done a great job."