As the Texans head into the second round of the NFL playoffs after defeating the Oakland Raiders 27-14, their success can directly be attributed to the play of their defense. While the offense has struggled to score points, the Texans’ defense has kept them in games and propelled them to back-to-back AFC South titles.

The Texans have the league’s No. 1 rated defense and the key to that defense has been the spectacular play of defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.

Many fans thought the Texans’ defense would crater when they lost three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Little did they realize that in his third season in the league, Clowney would evolve into the type of defensive force everyone envisioned he would become when he was the No. 1 player selected in the 2014 NFL draft out of South Carolina.

After missing virtually all of his rookie season to a knee injury that required micro-fracture surgery and a variety of injuries that plagued his sophomore season, Clowney has erupted in year three.

His play has been consistently dominant, whether it’s rushing the quarterback or defending the run. The amazing element of Clowney’s game is that he’s only scratched the surface of what his game can become.

Head coach Bill O’Brien acknowledged the obvious skill set of his star defender.

“[Clowney] has had a good year for us,” O’Brien said. “He’s an active player. We line him up in different spots. One thing about J.D., he goes to the ball, if that makes any sense. He makes plays on the football. Even when he’s getting after the quarterback or tackling the running back, there’s a chance he can get the ball out.”

As the top player in the draft who was slated to play beside all-world teammate Watt, Clowney was expected to take the league by storm. When injuries sidelined him he began to hear rumors that perhaps he was overrated. That criticism motivated him.

“All the criticism kind of built me up,” he said. “It really helped me off the field with pushing and getting better, just to come back and prove to them that what they were saying was wrong. I still keep that in the back of my mind.

“In this league, it’s up and down. One minute they love you, one minute they hate you. I just do what I can do to go out there and help my teammates and help my team,” he said.

Clowney’s hard-work approach to this season is paying dividends. He was named to his first AFC Pro Bowl a few weeks ago.

“I’m excited to be selected to my first Pro Bowl,” Clowney said. “I want to thank Coach O’Brien, Coach Crennel, Coach Vrabel and Coach Weaver for believing in me and pushing me to get to his point. It’s an honor to be recognized with the best players from around the NFL. I’m going to continue to work to help my team win games.”

Texan teammate Duane Brown has had a ringside seat observing the evolution of Clowney and he’s not surprised at his success.

“Knowing what he has been through in his career, it is great to see him healthy, out there flying around, being disruptive and doing what everyone knew he could do when he got here. It’s a sight to watch,” Brown said.

“He’s a very special talent with a lot of ability. He has fun with it. He’s a big kid out there when he’s playing. That’s what it’s all about. It’s good to see it.”

Clowney missed last year’s playoff game against Kansas City due to injury. This year he’s got big plans for himself and his teammates.

“We got a chance to do something great for this organization and for ourselves,” Clowney explained. “We can go as far as we can go and make history. So we’re going to try to do that, try to play as hard as we can.”

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