Improved defense helps Texans turn season around
HOUSTON (AP) The Texans have won four straight games to improve to 6-5 and keep pace with Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South.
The key to that turnaround? A much-improved defense powered by J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL in sacks with 13 1/2.
The Texans have tightened up their play since giving up 44 points in a loss to the Dolphins in the game before the streak began. Since then they've allowed just two touchdowns and both of those scores came in one game.
The defense was dominant in a 24-6 victory over the Saints on Sunday when Houston became the first team to hold New Orleans without a touchdown in a decade.
After such a dominant outing, what's next for this group?
Coach Bill O'Brien said he'll pose a simple question to his players when they meet on Wednesday to find out.
''How good do they want to be? I think you have to challenge them,'' O'Brien said. ''Is that good enough? There were still some plays that we gave up. They played a heck of a football game, don't get me wrong. We're very pleased with how the defense is playing, but you can never be satisfied. As soon as you kind of get satisfied or you're resting on your laurels … you're going to get beat.''
With Watt, 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and an experienced secondary, Houston's defense was supposed to be the strength of the team entering the season. Instead, the unit struggled early as the team also dealt with problems at quarterback and fell to 2-5.
Many of Houston's defenders acknowledged that the loss in Miami was a turning point where they had simply had enough and realized it was on them to improve and make sure a game like that didn't happen again.
''I think it was pretty clear that we sucked at that point, so something had to happen,'' Watt said. ''We had to play better. So far, we have been doing that, but it is a week to week thing … you can't let up. You have to have that chip on your shoulder.''
Watt, who won Defensive Player of the Year for the second time last season, has played well all year, but has taken his game to another level in the last few games. He has multiple sacks in four of the last five games and has piled up 22 tackles in that span.
But he's far from the only one who has amped up things lately on this defense. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus had a career-high 3 1/2 sacks in the first game in the winning streak and Clowney is healthy after sitting out two weeks ago with a back injury and has also given the group a boost. Middle linebacker Brian Cushing leads the team with 84 tackles and the secondary has grabbed five interceptions in the last four games combined.
With all the good things the group has been doing lately, O'Brien had to think for a minute when asked what he likes best about its recent play.
''The best thing about the way that they're playing is they're playing together,'' O'Brien said. ''Everybody's out there communicating really well for the most part … they're holding each other to a high standard as far as the communication goes and everybody's doing their job … and I think when that happens and you've got some good defenders out there then you're really able to play good defense.''
The Texans will try to win their fifth straight game for the first time since 2012 when they travel to Buffalo on Sunday.
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