Even before he watched a moment of film this week, Matt Hasselbeck already had a pretty good idea of what the Houston Texans do on defense.
That’s because Hasselbeck, the Tennessee Titans quarterback, knows what Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips likes to do.
“I take notes on defensive coordinators,” Hasselbeck said. “A lot of guys take notes on players, and I do that also. I think, for a quarterback, it just makes a lot more sense to study the coordinators, to study the guys calling the defense.
“If you’ve played against a guy — in this case, I’ve played against him many times — you’ve got it. Typically, coaches don’t change too much from their core philosophy. I’m certainly not doing anything special. I’m just doing what I’ve always done.”
That does not mean his job this week easy.
Phillips, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, changed Houston to a 3-4 scheme and quickly transformed its defense into one of the most aggressive in the league. Through six games, the Texans are third in the NFL with 17 sacks, their highest total ever at this point in the season.
Linebacker Brian Cushing is on pace for well over 100 tackles and cornerback Johanthan Joseph is tied for second in the league with three interceptions. Four of Houston’s first five opponents have scored 20 points or fewer.
“They are doing good, they are in the top three or four in sacks playing the under-front, similar to when we played the Cowboys last year, same type of defense,” Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. “… They are doing a nice job up front bringing four and five-man pressure. … They have been having some good luck with it, and we know how good their personnel has been over the years. We play them twice a year, so we are not surprised by it.”
Phillips has been a defensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL for the last 29 years. Twelve times his defenses finished among the top 10. And each of the last seven times he has joined a staff as head coach or coordinator, that team made the playoffs in its first year with him.
Currently, the Texans are 10th in total defense (one spot behind Tennessee). They were 30th last season.
“He does a great job of finding [favorable] matchups, whatever their personnel is based on your personnel,” Hasselbeck said. “Whether it be him in San Diego or him in Dallas or now him in Houston, he’s had some guys that are special. … It’s always a matchup thing.
“I think everybody that plays against him tries to get creative with ways to counteract that a little bit. But it’s tough. It’s definitely tough. So our guys know that they’re going to have to block some of their best players in tough situations. That’s just the way it goes.”
Hasselbeck does not expect things to be much different this time.
“I’ve played him enough that I know what he is,” he said. “He’s one of those trendsetter-type guys. When you talk about a 3-4 defense, he’s one of the guys you think of.
“I’ve played some really good defenses that he’s in charge of. So you don’t forget. You remember playing those really good Charger defenses or those really good Cowboys defenses. You don’t really forget that.”
In case you do, that’s what the notes are for.