The Houston Texans lost more than a game when the Oakland Raiders beat them, 25-20, on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. They also lost their defensive fulcrum, and according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
It's an enormous blow to a defense that was really coming around under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. After a rough start in his outside linebacker role (which we wrote about here), Williams started to thrive as Phillips put him in more end looks in four-man fronts. By the time the regular season started, Williams was in full Beast Mode, and he went into the Raiders game with four sacks and even managed to put up another one against Oakland's Jason Campbell before he came out of the game.
That final sack, which came late in the first quarter, is one the Texans would gladly give back, because that was the play in which Williams seemed to suffer the injury.
"I'm not a doctor, so I don't know," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said right after the game. "I hate to answer that right now in the state of mind I'm in, so let's see what happens." But an MRI taken Monday morning revealed the damage.
Rookie Brooks Reed will take Williams' place in the short term, and though Reed has played well, it's a tall order (literally) to replace Williams. At 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds, Williams is a load for any offensive tackle to deal with, especially when he's bull-rushing inline. Last season, even while the Texans' defense suffered terribly against the pass, he put up 8.5 sacks and was expected to be a major part of Houston's defensive rebuild.
Without Williams in the fold, Phillips will have to scheme like never before. Houston ranked fourth in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate metric through the first four weeks and ranked 10th in Pass Defense DVOA in 2011 after finishing dead last in 2010. That's a tribute to Phillips' defensive acumen … but Williams' absence is an obstacle he certainly didn't expect.
The Texans next face the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. At 3-2, they're tied with the Tennessee Titans for the AFC South lead.