By Jim McCurdy
HOUSTON—As the verdict has it: the defense rests.
Big play after play is the difference between a 2-1 and a 1-2 start.
Through three games, the Houston Texans defense ranks last in the NFL in yards per game allowed at 436.3. Opponents have converted on third-down on 20 of 40 occasions against Houston. They've been successful on three of four fourth-down plays.
"We can’t hide anymore, about what’s wrong and what’s right," Texans rookie linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Some things have to be done, and they will be.”
The Texans have registered only two sacks thus far. That's something that's become disturbing to a team that has one of the best defensive linemen in the game in Mario Williams and added free agent Antonio Smith in the offseason.
Williams has one of those sacks. Yet, nobody recorded a sack against the Jaguars on Sunday, in what was probably the team most susceptible to the pass rush of the three Houston has played so far.
"When you go back and look at the film, we should’ve gotten there four or five times," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said a day after reviewing Sunday's game. "But you’ve got to finish on a quarterback. You can’t just come close. You’ve got to finish plays and they’re all involved in that. Scheme-wise, we had some guys free. There is no reason why; we should have come out of that a few times with him going down.”
The Texans may experiment with some shuffling around on the defensive line, possibly moving Smith inside or even using practice players Tim Jamison and Jesse Nading at some point.
But it's more than just the defensive line where there are issues.
Tackles aren't being made in the secondary. Opponents are busting off long runs, which are plays the linebackers are supposed to make. The linebackers, with All-Pro DeMeco Ryans, Cushing, and Zac Diles, are the strongest part of this defense.
But for a team allowing 28.7 points a game, they've given up 31 points to their last two opponents.
"Anytime you give up 31 points as a defense, you really have a poor chance of winning," Cushing said.
The Texans insist they have people who can make plays. They insist the new attacking style of defense first-year coordinator Frank Bush employs gives them an opportunity to succeed. Probably, they could be a little more aggressive.
Bottom line, guys just aren't in position to make a tackle.
"I see people running to the ball, trying to make plays," Smith said. "It's just that you've got to be in the right place at the right time. Gap integrity is important in this defense.”
The Texans made Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, Cushing's college roommate, look like a star. Houston couldn't get to Sanchez, and he ate the Texans up. Houston allowed Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to run for 30-yards on one play in Jacksonville's first offensive possession.
Now they await Oakland and JaMarcus Russell, who ranks last in the NFL in passer rating (39.8) and completion percentage (41.3). But with the way the Texans have given up big plays on the ground, defending the pass should be the least of their worries.
"They’ve got a stable of great backs," Kubiak said of the Raiders. "I know (coach) Tom (Cable). They’re committed to the run, and they’re good enough on defense to keep some people down. So I think I know obviously what we’re going to get."
The question is, can they stop it?