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Film Room: Justin Houston has been a force rushing the passer

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Houston has been the team’s best pass rusher in 2019

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts sit at 5-2 on the season as they lead the AFC South through eight weeks. While it hasn’t always been pretty, there have been quite a few standouts on this roster. One of those standouts has been veteran pass rusher Justin Houston. A superstar in this league not long ago, Houston was cut this offseason by the Kansas City Chiefs. After signing a two year/24 million dollar contract with the Colts, Houston appears to have (somewhat) returned to his younger form.

Through seven games with the Colts, Houston has 21 tackles, four quarterback hits, three hurries, and five sacks. He has looked powerful with his rushes as he has dominated against weaker offensive tackles. In today’s film room, we will be looking at the impact of Houston on this defense and just how good he has been as a pass rusher on this young season.


Film Room

In his first game with the Colts, Houston was able to get home for a sack. In this clip against the Chargers in week one, he is able to get a favorable matchup on the play action. The Chargers chip Houston with the right tackle before sliding the left guard over to pick up the block. Houston is able to beat the initial chip before engaging the guard. He does an excellent job of bending around the end and shielding his body away from the guard in one-on-one protection. He successfully wins to the outside and closes in on Philip Rivers for the sack. Great rush to break through two blockers for his first sack as a member of the Colts.

Next clip comes against the Titans as Houston shows off his elite power. One reason why he has been able to maintain his strong play throughout the years is due to changing his game. As a younger player, he was a Hall of Fame talent as he had the perfect mix of athleticism and power as a rusher. Now that his quickness and athleticism have faded due to injuries, he has focused on his power. That power is on full display here as he bulldozes right tackle Jack Conklin for the near sack on the play. People may not realize it due to his somewhat smaller size, but Houston is one of the best in the league in converting speed to power on the outside.

The Colts and Matt Eberflus have done a great job of getting Houston into favorable matchups all year. With the Titans using a backup right guard, the Colts lined Houston up over him multiple times in that game. Here, his power and strong hands are on full display as he ragdolls the backup guard. He gets a good initial drive before stopping his forward progress to get his eyes on Marcus Mariota. Once he sees Mariota staying in the pocket, Houston quickly discards the weaker guard and nearly gets the sack on the play.

In a revenge game against the Chiefs, Houston showcased his talent against his former team. Lined up against the left tackle, he showcases his excellent hands and strength yet again. He jabs inside on the tackle’s chest plate before quickly chopping away his arms. By doing this, he is able to create separation to the outside and bend around the perimeter to get the sack. Excellent rush that showcases his excellent hands, technique, and quickness around the edge.

Speaking of strong/quick hands, Houston dominates because of this. For a player who has lost a step over the years, having excellent hand usage is a great way to compensate. Here, he is working against the Texans’ right tackle on the outside. He starts downhill from the wide nine technique and closes in on the tackle. As he engages, he quickly swats away the tackle’s hands and makes his way to the quarterback. While he isn’t able to get the sack here, he does rush Deshaun Watson off his spot and force him into an inaccurate throw on the play.

Again against the Texans, Houston is able to beat the right tackle for a near sack. He starts again from the wide nine technique and works downhill. He beats the tackle to the outside while still engaging him on the outside rush. As Houston works to the outside, he drags the tackle with him. As he gets into the backfield, he quickly discards the tackle which sends him flying to the ground. Again, while he is unable to get the sack on the play, he forces another inaccurate pass in a key situation for the Colts’ defense.

While most of these clips have showcased Houston’s talent or strength, this next one showcases his situational awareness to get the sack. The Colts bring the house on this third down late in the game with the Texans backed up against their own goal line. Houston initially starts his bull rush but quickly halts his progress when he recognizes the situation. He fades to the middle of the line of scrimmage, preventing Watson from stepping up and throwing from a cleaner area. As Watson does step up and tries to escape the pocket, Houston is right there waiting for the sack. The highlight plays and rushes are great but the awareness to get this sack is another tool in Houston’s arsenal.

In the final clip of today’s film room, Houston beats a familiar foe in Garrett Bolles. After struggling with Houston for many years when he played for Kansas City, Bolles yet again struggled against the star pass rusher this past Sunday. Here, Houston showcases his power yet again as he takes advantage of the poor footwork from Bolles. He gets his hands inside the chest plate and drives the weaker tackle into the ground before coming away with the sack on the play. Elite power, hands, and technique are what makes Houston one of the leagues more dangerous pass rushers despite losing a step over the years.


Final Thoughts

While Justin Houston is no longer the dominant, Hall of Fame force that he was early in his career, he is still a really good pass rusher in this league. He may not have the quickness and speed that he once had, but he makes up for it with his elite strength and technique. His ability to turn speed to power is remarkable and he always has an edge over weaker offensive tackles.

While he may not be a superstar anymore, the Colts didn’t need that when they signed him this offseason. They needed a reliable pass rusher who can give constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the course of a game. In Justin Houston, the Colts finally have that. With five sacks on the year, he is on pace for yet another double digit sack season in his illustrious career as he is leading this Colts’ defense on and field with his superb play.