The Cornerback Conundrum; Making Sense of The Texans Cornerback Depth Chart

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To many the Texans depth chart is confusing as Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph are starting on the outside on the depth chart. But while watching the Texans play, only Joseph is consistently playing outside.

Typically the Texans prefer to play the 3-4 defense on first and second down. This defense (before the Jets game) had Shareece Wright and Jonathan Joseph playing outside cornerback. Luckily for Texans fans, Wright was benched halfway through the game as Jackson assumed his old role.

Romeo Crennel often sets his defense in Tampa 2 out of the 3-4, which fits both Kareem Jackson’s and Jonathan Joseph’s playstyle. This offense is meant to take away big plays over the top via the MIKE linebacker and safeties while having the outside cornerbacks playing flat zones. Both Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph can play this role well as smart and sure tackling cornerbacks. This leads me to believe that Jackson will continue playing outside when in the 3-4.

This is the current Texans 3-4 defense. With three hands down linemen and four linebackers, this is a more massive defensive set better suited to defend the run.

Notice how Jackson (even though he is more of a nickel-back) is playing outside, this is because the Texans play is Tampa 2.

The Texans cannot employ the 3-4 defense even for a majority of the game. No modern NFL defense does this as having three to four linebackers in coverage can be exposed with ease. This means the Texans have to often play nickel and dime defenses.

The nickel defense is where Kareem Jackson thrives. The definition of a nickel defense is to have an extra defensive back for better coverage. The Texans can either play this with three cornerbacks and two safeties or three safeties and two cornerbacks. A nickel defender has to be versatile as they have to cover slot receivers, running backs, tight ends, blitz, and defend the run. Both Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu do such things well.

The keys to opening up the nickel defense are Andre Hal and Aaron Colvin. Unfortunately, we have seen these two play together for a whopping two times this season. Now that both are healthy, the Texans have two reliable options while deploying the nickel defense. 

First option: Move Colvin outside, play Kareem Jackson in the slot. Colvin can be an outside corner for the Texans. Although that will be shown in limited quantities. He is coming back from an injury and has played in the nickel for most of his career. But, he has the size (6′ frame), speed and intellect to play outside when needed. 

Second option: Play either Colvin or Jackson at outside cornerback, move Mathieu to the nickel. Then play Andre Hal as a safety. This makes sense as Mathieu has experience and has been successful while playing this role. Andre Hal is also a talented free-ranging safety and needs to see time on the field. This lineup is best suited to stop the run compared to the three cornerback nickel defense. 

Above is what the typical nickel defense looks like for the Texans. Note that Shareece Wright is the outside cornerback due to a Jonathan Joseph injury, while Colvin is playing outside. Of course, Crennel can switch Jackson for Mathieu and insert Hal to better defend the run.

Next is the dime defense. This is used in long-distance situations where the only option is to pass to get the first down. The dime essentially means that the team plays with six defensive backs. This can either be three or two safeties. 

Because the Texans cornerback depth chart is rather shallow and the safety depth chart is deep, the Texans typically go the route of playing three cornerbacks and three safeties while playing dime defense. This defensive front should be increasingly common when both Colvin and Hal are active. 

Above is the Texans standard look while in the dime defense. Like I said before, Jackson and Mathieu are standout players as inside defenders. This allows Colvin to play as an outside corner. Notice that Colvin is outside while Jackson is inside because the Texans need to play over the top type defense to win the game. 

While scrolling through these pictures, you will notice that Colvin is the outside cornerback in every defense but the 3-4. This is because Jackson is best suited to play inside while Colvin offers upside to be an outside cornerback. However, Crennel tends to trust Kareem Jackson while in the 3-4. This can change as Colvin gets more acclimated to playing on the outside coming off an ankle injury.

Outside of Joseph, Jackson, and Colvin the depth chart is weak. Shareece Wright should be played in only dire situations. You’ll see why below.

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Top side cornerback

Wright was then burnt on the same exact route a week later in the Jets game. It is clear that he struggles to defend a double-cut route which makes him an obvious liability.

Kayvon Webster once was a solid cornerback but coming off of an Achilles and quad injury is not ideal. But, he could offer some upside as a solid depth option. The rest of the depth chart consists of Deandre Burton, and Johnson Bademosi and both should not see much time heading into the playoffs. It is clear that if one of the trio of Joseph, Jackson, and Colvin get hurt the Texans will lose some versatility and could be in a relatively dangerous situation. 

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