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Phillips' timing couldn't be worse for Texans

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 04:18 PM
TAMPA -

The NFL lockout is causing considerable agitation deep in the heart of Texas.

No club is more anxious to get started in 2011 than the Houston Texans, who dropped eight of their final 10 games in a stunning collapse that triggered a defensive overhaul.

Wade Phillips, who specializes in turning around struggling units, was hired as Houston's defensive coordinator and he's surrounded by several new assistants determined to reward patient fans with the franchise's inaugural playoff berth.

The April draft leaned heavily toward defense as Phillips prepares to install a 3-4 alignment designed to bolster a mediocre pass rush.

Defensive end J.J. Watt, outside linebacker Brooks Reed and ex-Hurricanes cornerback Brandon Harris figure to play prominent roles as rookies, but Phillips and head coach Gary Kubiak remain frustrated by a communication breakdown imposed by NFL owners.

Because of the lockout, Phillips is prohibited from any contact with his veterans or Houston's rookie class. Standout defensive end Mario Williams will be asked to switch to linebacker without the benefit of organized workouts.

Key defensive players rehabbing from injury – Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin – can't seek treatment at the club facility while the lockout remains in place.

"We have to improve our defense,'' says Kubiak, who has posted only one winning record in his five years with the Texans. "You have no chance to be successful if you can only win one way. We can win a game 34-31, but we've got to get our team in position to win 10-7 if we have to.''

Quarterback Matt Schaub is diligent about organizing informal practices, but that won't do much for defensive players who will be operating under a new scheme.

Non-contact drills might help sharpen some timing between Schaub and his receivers, but Williams, Ryans and the rest of Houston's reeling defense need Phillips on hand to explain and illustrate new principles.

If the 2011 season begins on time, the Texans will need to be ready quickly.

The first four weeks feature home matchups against the Colts and Steelers, sandwiched around road games against Miami and New Orleans.

How would you like your new defense to face Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger in the opening month without much time to prepare?

Owner Bob McNair proved his patience by bringing Kubiak back for a sixth year, but everyone is feeling the pressure in Houston.

One of the NFL's premier attacks is constantly being undermined by a shabby defense that can't hold fourth-quarter leads.

Houston scored less than 17 points only twice last season … but the Texans allowed less than 17 points only once.

That led to a lot of shootouts and a lot of disappointment for a defense that allowed 33 touchdown passes and an outrageous opposing passer rating of 100.5.

Phillips has proven to be a pedestrian head coach in several NFL outposts, but he's also an effective assistant who can make a difference and save Kubiak's job.

Unfortunately, his timing is lousy.

This lockout is having a particularly debilitating effect on a Houston franchise that took a major step backwards last season.

It's in McNair's interests to get this lockout lifted as quickly as possible so Houston coaches can get to work on a daunting turnaround project.

Tick tock, Wade.

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