The Texans lost their career leader in sacks with Mario Williams’ departure to Buffalo, but they still have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed – the same two outside linebackers who started the final 11 games of last season, when the Texans ranked second in the NFL in defense.
Barwin, a second-round draft pick in 2009, had a team-high 11.5 sacks in 2011. That tied him for ninth in the NFL and third in the AFC and was the third-highest total in team history. Barwin also led the Texans with 27 quarterback hits and led all Texans linebackers with seven passes defensed.
Reed, a second-round pick in 2011, set a Texans rookie record with 6.0 sacks and had 11 quarterback hits. He had 3.5 sacks in the playoffs, which tied him with J.J. Watt and two Giants players for the NFL postseason lead.
Barwin started the first five games of the season at strongside linebacker. Williams played on the weakside as the primary pass rusher in Wade Phillips’ 3-4. Reed was the first backup off the bench.
After Williams was injured against Oakland in Week 5, Reed started the next game at Baltimore on the weakside. Barwin continued to start on the strongside.
A week later, Phillips switched Barwin to the weakside and Reed to the strongside. Over the final 10 games, Barwin had 9.5 sacks – tied for second in the AFC in that span. He had a team-record four sacks at Jacksonville in Week 12 and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November, when he led the NFL with 6.5 sacks in three games. Reed had all six of his sacks after the switch, including at least one in five consecutive games from Weeks 7-12.
The Texans are likely to target an outside linebacker in the first few rounds of the draft and possibly in free agency, but they already have two starters who have produced at a high level under Phillips. And both are only 25 and entering their second seasons playing in a 3-4.
Including Barwin and Reed, all 11 of the Texans’ defensive starters from the end of last season are under contract for 2012.
Tags: Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Free agency, Mario Williams, Wade Phillips
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