INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts brought in Justin Houston this offseason to give their defense one of the league's top pass rushing threats.
And if his play Saturday in his Colts debut was any indication, then Houston should be wreaking lots of havoc in opposing backfields — just as advertised.
Taking on the Cleveland Browns in Saturday's second preseason game, Houston mixed in a few quality rushes among his 11 total snaps, lining up on both sides of the line and also utilizing some stunts to finish with two hurries.
"I felt like I did good," Houston said after the game. "I was just working my alignment, my assignment and my technique, so we'll watch film and see what I did."
Saturday's game against the Browns was Houston's first actual in-game opportunity to see where he stood as a pure defensive end, as he played outside linebacker in the Kansas City Chiefs' 3-4 base defense the first eight years of his career.
Houston started the game at right defensive end, and also mixed in some snaps at left defensive end on a couple third-down passing situations, when Kemoko Turay would enter the game on the right side:
» The first such scenario was on the Browns' opening drive; it was 3rd and 8 at the Cleveland 39-yard line. Garrett Gilbert, lined up in the shotgun, had a quick three-step drop and scanned the field. Possibly feeling Turay coming from his blindside, Gilbert stepped up in the pocket just a little bit, and right there with a hand in his face was Houston, who had powered by right tackle Chris Hubbard. Gilbert's throw across the middle to wide receiver D.J. Montgomery was just off the mark and knocked away by cornerback Pierre Desir, and Cleveland sent its punt unit onto the field.
» The next such scenario came on the Browns' second drive. Facing 3rd and 16 from its own 31, Cleveland had to go with a passing play. Turay came in at right defensive end; Houston slid over to the left side. The Browns' protection had a total meltdown on this particular play, as Turay seemed to be accidentally chip blocked by the running back away from left tackle Greg Robinson and into the path of the quarterback, while defensive tackle Denico Autry had a terrific rush against left guard Willie Wright. Turay got to Gilbert first, and Autry was right behind him. Houston also had a pretty nice power rush against Hubbard, and even drew extra attention from right guard Drew Forbes at the end of the play.
The closest Houston got to the quarterback, however, came on a 3rd and 11 play earlier in Cleveland's first drive.
With Al-Quadin Muhammad in at left defensive end and Houston still on the right side, Gilbert took the snap in shotgun and went through his options, with Houston going to work on Robinson. First he used a little stutter step to get Robinson to think he was going to his outside shoulder, but then Houston was able to utilize his hands to use Robinson's outside momentum against him and toss the tackle away to turn inside, quickly bearing down on Gilbert who barely got the ball off before Houston could get to him.
Montgomery, who was wide open in a zone in the middle of the field about five yards past the first-down marker, was able to come down with the catch and get 21 yards and the first down.
Should Houston play in this Saturday's third preseason game against the Chicago Bears, it will likely be his last in-game reps before the start of the regular season. Head coach Frank Reich hasn't yet indicated how long his starters will play in this typical "dress rehearsal" game, but the norm is usually about a half.
That would be just fine for a guy like Houston, whose 78.5 career sacks are the eighth most among active NFL players.
"I don't need much," Houston said. "This is Year 9, so it's a new place, same thing — you've gotta play football. Know what you're doing; have fun doing it."