D.J. Swearinger does everything all out — with a passion that can make an evangelical preacher look tame by comparison. The second-year Houston Texans safety just doesn't know when to stop.
Which is something that obviously pleases Bill O'Brien. The Texans' rookie NFL head coach has embraced the Swagg as Swearinger himself would call it. And it's already looking like a brilliant unexpected move from a seemingly close-to-the-vest coach.
For Swearinger's all over O'Brien's first career win — a 17-6 defensive suffocation of RGIII and the Washington Redskins. He's flying in for a first quarter sack, revving up a record season opening crowd. He's seemingly coming from all angles in Romeo Crennel's ever-shifting defense. He's making both the big mistake and the big play in one sequence. He's even hitting J.J. Watt, his other-worldly teammate, with a new nickname.
All in a single afternoon. No, it sure doesn't stink to be Swagg.
"J.J. is The Hundred Mil, so he's supposed to do that."
"Six points?!" Swearinger half says, half boasts. "Six points, if we do that every game it's going to be hard to beat us."
Swearinger needs to be consistently crazily brilliant in his own bizarre way for the Texans to keep this promise going. Game One of the O'Brien era sees Houston put on its most impressive defensive effort since late in the 2011 season. That season — which ended with a defensive January masterpiece in Baltimore undone by Jacoby Jones' boneheaded blunder and T.J. Yates' forced interceptions — is the last time the Texans truly scared teams as a complete defensive unit.
J.J. Watt himself mostly just frightened teams with individual thunder on an otherwise flawed, overrated defense prone to giving up some big point totals in 2012.
But now, the Texans suddenly look like more than just Watt on defense. Suddenly, Watt finds himself surrounded by a lot of havoc-making sidekicks. Make no mistake, J.J. Watt is still the single biggest reason Houston has a winning NFL team for the first time in 358 days. The new $100 Million Man goes Full Mega Watt with a sack, a critical blocked extra point, two tackles in Washington's backfield, a batted down pass, a fumble recovery and five hits on Robert Griffin III.
In one play, Watt loses his helmet — and still makes a tackle in the backfield.
Watt might as well have stolen all the iPads containing Washington's gameplan too — for all the good new Redskins coach Jay Gruden's schemes do when faced with No. 99. Watt probably made Gruden wish he followed his more famous brother into TV rather than coaching.
"He's the man," Swearinger says of his teammate. "He just got the hundred mil. He got it for a reason, you can see that . . .
"J.J. is The Hundred Mil, so he's supposed to do that."
The Hundred Mil. It's doubtful Watt himself will be thrilled with the new nickname Swearinger's bestowed on him, but he sure appreciates the help.
More than J.J. Watt Now
For it's not just Swearinger. Brooks Reed — yes, the oft forgotten Brooks Reed — spends huge chunks of the afternoon in Washington's backfield. Reed is flying all over the field. It's not his best game ever as some reporters will suggest to Reed afterwards, which causes the ever-polite linebacker to only softly demur with, "I don't know. I have to go look at the tape." (Look back at Reed's two-game 2011 rookie playoff run, he was pretty special then, if Watt overshadowed.)
Still, it is Reed's best game in a long time.
Game One of the O'Brien era sees Houston put on its most impressive defensive effort since late in the 2011 season.
It's also cornerback Johnathan Joseph's best afternoon in ages. Joseph suddenly looks a true shutdown corner again, holding big-play monster DeSean Jackson to a very small 62 yards on eight catches. Joseph finally seems healthy and ultra motivated.
The play of Swearinger, Reed and Joseph is actually more encouraging — and telling — than Watt's superhuman numbers. For Watt's a given. What he needs is a team around him. Especially with No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney now out for almost half his rookie year with a knee tear.
Even missing Clowney, Watt's team is going to be completely dependent on the D. Despite Arian Foster's typical brilliance — 120 total yards on 29 touches, looking like the best offensive player on the field again — and second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins' big play moment, O'Brien's first Texans team will live and die on defense.
Which is fine with Swearinger, who's liable to do both on the same play.
That's what happens when Swagg gets embarrassingly beat badly by third-string tight end Niles Paul for a 48-yard gain. Swearinger may be done, but he's anything but out. For he chases Paul down, all the way up the field, and strips the football from him for a fumble that safety Kendrick Lewis recovers for the Texans.
There's all-out effort. And then, there's what Swearinger does on this play. This is why such a happily anal Bill Belichick disciple like O'Brien cannot help but love the trash-talking ball of fire.
Watt may as well have stolen the iPads with Washington's gameplan too — for all the good Gruden's schemes do when faced with No. 99.
"He wasn't supposed to catch that ball from the beginning," Swearinger says, almost chastising himself again at his locker. "It was my bad on the coverage. But we had to finish."
Few finish like Swagg. Who else could get away with not only The 100 Hundred Mil tag, but also yelling at Watt for doing one of his patented swats?
"J.J. knocked down a pass I was going to intercept," Swearinger says, all serious. "I let him know about that."
Watt may not exactly know what to make of D.J. Swearinger. Few players in the NFL do. Certainly not Falcons all-pro wideout Roddy White who is likely still not over the barking Swearinger did on Hard Knocks. Assuredly not Peyton Manning who Swearinger made lose his legendary cool — and his damn mind — in that preseason game.
But Watt knows he needs a few crazies with him. Clowney's already down, but this defense cannot afford to be. Not even for a quarter.
"Defense is all a mindset," veteran nose tackle and Crennel devotee Jerrell Powe tells me in a quiet moment in the locker room. "We've got that relentless mindset. That's what we're working on. That's what you saw out there today."
Doesn't know how to stop? It turns out this is one place where D.J. Swearinger fits right in.