Texans defense looks to improve after 9th straight win

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              Houston Texans free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates with teammates after the Texans recovered a Cleveland Browns fumble during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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HOUSTON (AP) — With the defense forcing a season-high four turnovers, the Houston Texans extended their winning streak to nine games with a win over the Browns.

But as good as the unit has been, the Texans believe they can get much better down the stretch with the first test coming on Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

“We can tackle better,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think we can communicate better. I think there’s a lot of things that we can improve on in all three phases, but I think they’re playing hard. They’re playing with really good effort.”

That effort was highlighted on Sunday when rookie safety Justin Reid chased down Antonio Callaway after a long catch and forced a fumble just before he crossed the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

It was just the latest big play for the third-round pick, who helped Houston to a 23-21 victory over Washington on Nov. 18 by returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown.

“He’s really improved every week,” O’Brien said. “He really works hard to improve. He’s a very smart guy, works very hard in practice, instinctive player, good speed, good size. He’s come a long way. He really understands the importance of practice and he tries to get better every day.”

Reid’s emergence illustrates the fact that Houston’s defense has succeeded this year because it has received important contributions from several players. While the return of three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and the solid play of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has led the unit, the Texans have also seen plenty of other players step up to make big plays as they’ve piled up win after win.

On Sunday, Andre Hal had one of three interceptions of Baker Mayfield. It was the first interception of the year for Hal, who missed the first six games of the season recovering from cancer after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in May.

Zach Cunningham made another big play for the defense when the second-year player grabbed his first career interception and returned it for a touchdown against the Browns.

“You’re always looking to try to figure out, as you get ready for the next team, what does this individual player need to improve on,” O’Brien said. “What does this unit need to improve on? What does the team need to improve on? What do I need to improve on? I think that’s been a big theme for us and our players are doing a good job of taking that to heart.”

The Texans are also careful not to get too caught up in the streak. They know that if they don’t focus on their next opponent that things could go wrong quickly.

“I don’t even think about it anymore,” 13-year veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said of the winning streak. “It’s almost boring to talk about because … it doesn’t really mean anything. We have to go out and play the next game whether we’re on a win streak or we lost the week before. So, it’s all good for everything other than the people in this locker room because if we buy into it too much that’s when we get smacked in the face.”

Houston is allowing the third-fewest points in the NFL (19.6), ranks 10th in yards allowed (341.5) and its rush defense ranks fifth by allowing just 91.3 yards rushing a game.

This week the group will face a team that is averaging more than 27 points and 377 yards a game. Indianapolis scored 34 points in an overtime loss to Houston in Week 4 where Luck threw for a season-high 464 yards with four touchdowns.

“He can make every throw,” defensive back Kareem Jackson said. “He can definitely buy time for guys to get open so … with him you know a play is never over. So we’ve definitely got to be (solid) in coverage and play to the whistle.”