HOUSTON -- Houston defensive end Antonio Smith decided it was time to have a chat with his teammates.
The Texans (4-2) rank last in yards allowed heading into Monday night's showdown against Indianapolis (4-2), and Smith was so frustrated that he called the defensive players together for a quick five-minute pep talk on Monday.
Smith, who started for Arizona in the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, preached togetherness and conveyed what it took for the best teams he's played for to succeed.
"I just basically wanted to give whatever bit of knowledge that I have from what I've been through in this game," Smith said, "and try to relay to my teammates the sacrifices that need to be made by myself and everybody else on the defense. I just think that it was something that needed to be said."
By the end, every defensive player made a promise to improve the embarrassing statistics over the final 10 games. Smith said he came up with a mantra that he now yells out at practice: "Remember the Oath."
"Sometimes you've got to pump each other up, talk to each other and hold each other accountable," Smith said. "I think a coach can tell you that until he's blue in the face. You want to please your coach and want to do right. But I think that it's more pressure when your brother puts the pressure on you and when your peers put the pressure on you."
Smith's teammates felt like the meeting was an important step in the right direction.
"Everybody shut up, everybody listened to him, and that's something we needed," safety Bernard Pollard said. "It was very important. We have to get better. We made a vow to each other to go out there and play better."
Defensive tackle Shaun Cody said the meeting was "overdue." The Texans are giving up 27.8 points per game, and have allowed at least 31 in their last two games.
"Antonio is a leader on our defense, and he had some pretty good things for us to hear," Cody said. "Hopefully, it helps. Then again, it's just words. We still have to go out there and do it."
The Texans can look at their opening 34-24 win as a starting point for a turnaround. Houston sacked Peyton Manning twice and pressured him 10 times, a season high.
Manning, a four-time league MVP, still threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns. But linebacker Brian Cushing, who was suspended for the game, said the Texans' defense showed a level of intensity that day that it hasn't matched since.
"We played harder than in any other game this year," Cushing said. "No question about it."
Cushing will have a featured role in the rematch, moving from the outside to replace the injured DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker. Like Smith, Cushing is a vocal leader on defense, and Houston coach Gary Kubiak is hoping the two of them rub off more on the rest of the group over the final 10 games.
"The key is that the other 10 understand that we all need to talk more, not wait on one voice," Kubiak said. "They got so used to waiting on DeMeco, that they all need to share the verbiage out there."
Houston's defensive front has no more than six quarterback pressures in the five games since the first one, and the Texans failed to record a single sack in their two losses, to Dallas and the New York Giants.
The lack of a pass rush has made things even more challenging for the young and beleaguered secondary. The Texans have yielded a 100-yard receiver in five of six games, and given up seven pass plays of 40 yards or longer.
But Smith took personal responsibility for the defense's struggles before he criticized anyone else.
"You will gain nobody's respect by pointing the finger at everybody else, saying, 'Y'all need to do what I do. Y'all need to step your game up,'" Smith said. "That's going to help the defense as a whole, when everybody is holding themselves to a higher level of accountability.
"When that happens, you don't have to worry about the secondary, or the defensive line not getting any sacks," he said. "It's everybody making plays and once that starts to happen, the thing just opens up."