HOUSTON — No member of the Texans coaching staff has seen more postseason games than defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and because of it he’s become a walking playoff almanac.
He can tell a Texans team that’s been largely written off that beating the Patriots is far from impossible, because he’s been there when upsets have happened.
In 1979, he was defensive line coach of an Oilers team that was a 20-point underdog to the Chargers, who had won the AFC West comfortably, tied for the best record in the league, and sewn up their first playoff berth in 14 years. San Diego had the league’s top passing attack with future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts throwing for 4,082 yards and 24 touchdowns, and the second-ranked defense.
Next to an Oilers team that had lost two of its last three games and stumbled into the playoffs at 11-5, the Chargers were the sexier pick. But the Oilers picked off Fouts five times and came away with a 17-14 win.
“We had a tremendous day,” Phillips said. “That’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever been around.”
In 36 seasons, Phillips has coached in 29 postseason games, priceless experience for a young Texans franchise still looking for its first road win in the playoffs.
Phillips has coached for nine NFL teams, and at nearly all of his stops he’s earned a reputation for giving creaky defenses extreme makeovers. It’s been no different with the Texans, who finished second in the league in total defense a year ago and seventh this season. Since he came on board a year ago, the Texans have held five teams to fewer than 200 yards, setting a franchise record in Week 2 this season when Jacksonville cobbled together just 117.
“He’s a great defensive mind,” said linebacker Connor Barwin. “That’s why he’s been able to have success wherever he’s gone.”
Prior to Phillips’s arrival, the Texans’ defense was among the league’s worst, but it wasn’t for lack of talent.
“He builds your confidence, puts you in the right place to make plays,” said cornerback Johnathan Joseph. “It’s just up to the players. He does everything from a standpoint to putting the pass rushers in the best position possible where a guy can come free or just put you in a matchup where you have a favorable matchup; the same thing with the linebackers and with us in coverage. He puts us in the certain situation in certain downs and distance where we’re able to win and succeed, but at the same time, we just have to go out and execute the coverage and the game plan.”
Written off before
As much as it seems like the Texans have been written off coming into Sunday’s divisional-round matchup with a Patriots team that hung a 42-14 loss on them a month ago, defensive lineman Antonio Smith has heard worse.
In 2008, Smith and his Cardinals squeezed into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Deion Sanders said on the NFL Network that he would sell his tickets to the Super Bowl if the Cardinals made it there. They then beat the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles to reach Super Bowl XLIII.
“[Sanders] was at the game,” Smith said.
But being overwhelming underdogs against the Patriots, Smith said, feels familiar.
“The same thing I went through last time I was in this situation,” he said.
Even though there are similarities, Smith said he tries not to preach to his teammates about that experience.
“I would if it’s needed, but I think that we’re past that,” he said. “I’ve used that card early on when I got here and I guess my feelings were just a couple years off, so now we’re in the prime opportunity to be able to grab ahold of our destiny. I started saying that when I first came because it was the same feeling I felt when I was there and I knew this team could be what it is now.”
Left tackle Duane Brown, who signed a six-year, $53.4 million extension in the offseason, earned All-NFL honors from Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America. He also earned his first Pro Bowl nod, giving up just 2½ sacks and going the entire season without a holding penalty. In his career, Brown has been a member of three offenses ranked in the top four in the league, and opened holes for four 1,000-yard rushers.
“It motivates me getting the recognition,” Brown said. “I know a lot of eyes are on me, a lot of people expecting me to perform, and none bigger than this week. I’ve got some pretty good talent I’ve been lining up against, so it’s motivating me. It’s a great feeling.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.