- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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The secondary has to cover better. The pass rush has to help by hurrying quarterbacks more often or getting them off rhythm.
Certainly the personnel deserves a lion’s share of blame for what’s wrong with the Houston Texans so far.
The players are the ones who compose the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, after all. They are the one’s giving up an average of 329.6 passing yards a game and 8.34 yards per pass attempt. They are the ones quarterbacks are tossing it over and between while mounting a gaudy combined passer rating of 104.0.
Still, they aren’t the only culprits here.
Coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith crafted this roster. When they trimmed it on cut day, they decided the Kiddie Corners -- starters Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin, nickel guy Brice McCain and backup Sherrick McManis -- would suffice.
The formula, however, counted on a few things that haven’t happened yet:
Quick and steady growth by the corners.
An improved pass rush that would force quarterbacks to hurry.
A high-scoring offense that would mean it was OK if the opponent could mount yards and points.
After two weeks, I thought it was too early to worry. Now, however, the team still doesn’t get a check-mark on any of those.
This leaves a stand-up guy like Quin saying: “If you can’t stop it, they’re going to continue to do it. That gives us a chance to make a bunch of plays in the pass game and put on film and show the league you can’t just sit there and throw the ball on us. But it’s going to take more than one game to stop the pass until we weather the storm and get out of it.”
Let’s circle back and take on those three issues one at a time.
1) The corners are struggling, with first-rounder Jackson topping the list. It seems the Texans are asking a lot of him awfully soon. Maybe it hardens him quickly and we see a growth spurt.
In the meantime, however, when they want to scale him back as they did Sunday in the home blowout at the hands of the Giants, the alternative is to use McCain as the second corner, with McManis, a fifth-round rookie, in the nickel package.
I had no problem with the team admitting Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves were no longer useful and letting them go. But at some point after they decided to let Dunta Robinson walk (he wasn’t worth the money) and they failed to land Leigh Bodden (he may have used them to secure a deal in New England), they needed to add a veteran with the potential to be a useful reserve who can at least calm panic and be average.
Who? I don’t know. But players like Walt Harris, Ellis Hobbs, Lito Sheppard and Benny Sapp changed teams and have roles where they are. Rod Hood might have been the same sort of guy had he not gotten hurt.
One of them or someone else could have provided more than Karl Paymah, the current veteran on the bench who’s still learning the system. You need a guy who can fill in if the kids need a break and can be a resource to them -- though Quin said talking to a veteran isn’t such a huge help, that young guys simply need to learn through experience.
Barring injuries, I think it’s an architectural mistake when a team doesn’t have a reasonable mix of youth and experience at a position group. This qualifies as that.
“I can’t tell you that I have ever really sat down and said, ‘Gosh, we’ve got all young guys in this group, we need a veteran,’” he said. “Because if all the young guys are playing well, you don’t need a veteran. It’s difficult to look at it that way. ...”
“When you make a decision to go young, particularly in the secondary, you do that with the full awareness that there are going to be some growing pains. We certainly are experiencing some of those. But you do that because you are betting on the upside. And you know once you learn those lessons and get through some of those tough experiences you’re going to have a group of players that is capable of playing together for a while at a high level. I believe they’ll answer the call and we’ll play good defense.”
Players want to prove that Smith and Kubiak did the right thing, Quin said.
“Those guys see something or saw something that they felt like, ‘We’re going to go in this direction and it’s going to be good for us,’” Quin said. “So I don’t feel like just because we started off the season and we’re last, this was a bad decision. We’ve got to play better and make it a great decision. They stuck their necks out for us, now we have to go out and perform for them.”
2) The rush got only one addition of note, tackle Earl Mitchell, a third-round pick. Connor Barwin, a rush-specialist end, was lost for the season with an injury suffered opening day, which hurt as he was in line to be the most improved player on the team.
But the Kubiak-Smith duo doesn’t appear to have done enough here either, expecting patience would pay off with growth that we simply haven’t seen.
They hope Mark Anderson or Adewale Ogunleye can catch on to what they are doing and ultimately help replace Barwin. A second rushing force to go with Mario Williams is crucial, and a better rush would offer a lot of relief to the defensive backs.
The Texans have faced very good quarterbacks so far.
Still, according to ESPN Stats & Information, they have thrown 147 passes against the Texans when they’ve rushed just four defenders, completing 111 of them for a 75.5 percentage and 1,352 yards. Those are the highest number in the league in each of those categories.
With a four-man rush, the Texans have given up eight touchdowns, a 110.1 passer rating and recorded only four sacks.
For context: The Tennessee Titans have faced 10 fewer pass attempts against their standard pressure and have 10 more sacks than Houston in those situations.
“I think Mario Williams has been great,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “Fulfilling all of his vast and amazing potential. But the rest of the crew is letting him and their terrible pass defense down.”
3) It was reasonable to expect that the Texans, who felt they’d made great strides in balancing out the offense and running in the red zone, would improve from 10th in scoring a year ago. Overly reliant on the pass, the 2009 Texans averaged just more than 24 points a game.
Now as the leader of the offense, he sees his counterparts slinging the ball all over the field and has to be feeling more pressure than he should to get some crooked numbers on his side of the scoreboard.
With no major personnel change, the team’s gotten a touch less than that while allowing nearly a touchdown more a game. It’s hit 30 points in three wins.
But in two hard-to-swallow blowouts, the Texans' offense struggled. It didn't get a touchdown against Dallas until under two minutes were left. It didn’t find the end zone against the Giants until the third quarter.
“We’ve hit a couple of rough patches, but that’s expected,” Smith said. “I’ve got total confidence in our guys and that we’ll make plays and continue to play good on offense.”
Houston’s been outscored 78-40 in the first half. The offense can do more to keep the Texans in a tough game.
11hEric D. Williams