Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Time to break the defensive cycle
HOUSTON -- Sometimes consistency isn't such a good thing.
The points-allowed column after five Houston Texans games is
frighteningly consistent: 20, 31, 42, 20, 38. When 20 points is the
low-water mark for opponent scoring, there's a problem.
After five games in the Texans' inaugural season, they had one
fewer win and a defense winning praise for keeping Houston
competitive while the rookie-laden offense stumbled and bumbled and
quarterback David Carr ran for his life.
Now the offense is more potent and Carr's sack totals are in
line with those of his peers. The focus has shifted to the other
side of the ball, where defenders appeared befuddled and a step
slow throughout the 38-17 loss in Nashville on Sunday.
Steve McNair enjoyed immaculate protection and consistently --
there's that word again -- found wide-open targets. In the end both
McNair, with 421 yards passing and Derrick Mason, who had 177 yards
receiving and caught all three of McNair's touchdown throws,
tortured a defense that frustrated Tennessee last year.
While they held a declining Eddie George to 60 yards and just
3.2 yards per carry, the Texans managed just one sack and allowed
11 pass plays of more than 20 yards. Titans receivers were
consistently open, they consistently broke tackles and they
consistently kept running after the catch.
Of course, defenders can't be expected to make plays when
they're not in position to do so, and some complained defensive
coordinator Vic Fangio didn't adjust to Tennessee's attack. But as
one observer noted Monday, Fangio didn't get juked on double moves,
he didn't miss any tackles and he didn't get stopped on seemingly
every pass rush.
The personnel is almost the same as last year, although injuries
are mounting this go-round. Nose guard Seth Payne had a
season-ending knee tear in Week 2, defensive end Gary Walker didn't
get going until the fourth week with a sore shoulder and cornerback
Aaron Glenn went out early with a groin injury in Houston's 24-20
victory against Jacksonville on Sept. 28 and might stay on the
shelf for a few weeks.
The physical travails, plus the free agency loss of sack-happy
right outside linebacker Jeff Posey to Buffalo in the offseason,
have taken their toll. A defense that ranked statistically in the
middle of the pack last year despite spending more time on the
field than virtually any other unit now is near the bottom of most
categories despite logging among the fewest plays.
Only woeful Jacksonville has allowed more than the 16 offensive
touchdowns Houston has yielded, and the Jaguars have played one
more game. Most telling is the 6.4 yards per play against the
Texans, worst in the league.
The 379.2 yards per game the Texans are giving up is good for
third-most in the league. The only teams faring worse -- San Diego
and Atlanta -- have one victory between them.
And all those stats don't count the three interception returns
for touchdowns and Dante Hall's score on a punt return. Only
Arizona has equaled the Texans' total of 20 touchdowns allowed, and
they too have played six games instead of Houston's five.
There won't be any easy answers or quick fixes. The paper-thin
depth at every position means there isn't much room for personnel
changes other than quarterback-seeking missile Antwan Peek getting
more time at outside linebacker. And further injuries could cause
additional mismatches as the next 11 games play out.
The best remedy for the Texans' defensive woes is to play some
lightweights. The Jets fit that bill this Sunday, then an impending
train wreck looms at Indianapolis next week, followed by another
winnable game at Cincinnati. Houston easily could be 4-4 by
mid-November before a difficult second half begins.
By then, the Texans' defense had better stop being so