HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's pass defense has been a strength of the team all season and has been even more important in the wake of J.J. Watt's season-ending back injury.
The Texans rank second in the NFL by allowing just 189.3 yards passing a game and have remained solid in that area despite an onslaught of recent injuries.
The veteran of the group, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, has been battling injuries for the past two weeks. He left early in the loss to Minnesota two weeks ago with a concussion and returned last week only to leave in the first quarter with a forearm injury.
But he's far from the only member of the secondary struggling to stay on the field. Houston has been without its other starting cornerback, Kareem Jackson, for the last two weeks because of a hamstring injury.
Joseph and Jackson returned to practice on Wednesday, but the Texans still have several other players, including starting strong safety Quintin Demps and backup cornerback Kevin Johnson, who remain out. Demps missed the last game with a leg injury and his status is uncertain for Monday's game at Denver and Johnson, a first-round draft pick in 2015, is out indefinitely with a broken foot. They placed backup safety K.J. Dillon on the injured reserve on Wednesday with a knee injury.
Joseph, who is in his 11th NFL season, has tried to help steady the group throughout all the changes.
“Just talk to guys constantly about whatever role they are going to be playing or just try to help them out, get them up to speed with the playbook or just a game plan,” he said.
Though Johnson wasn't starting, he was getting a lot of playing time and had started to be a key member of the secondary in his second season with 25 tackles.
“I thought he'd played real well,” coach Bill O'Brien said. “He tackled well. He covered well. Like I always say, injuries happen. It's unfortunate when they happen to your best players, but they do and the next guys have to step up. We've done that in many regards.”
That's something the Texans have done all season, especially this defense in moving on without Watt, last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Houston has won two of three games since the defensive end was placed on the injured reserve with a back injury.
“I think we have responded well,” Joseph said. “Obviously, losing a guy like him is a big blow. I think guys have done a great job of stepping up in other areas and helping out. It's going to be all hands on deck type of mentality.”
On Monday they will face a Denver team that has struggled in the passing game and ranks 27th in the league by averaging just 224.8 yards. Despite those numbers, the Texans know they will have to play well to contain quarterback Trevor Siemian.
“He's a good quarterback,” safety A.J. Bouye said. “We look at who he targets the most. Everybody in the NFL, if you're a quarterback and you're starting, you know that you're a good quarterback.”
He's got two good targets in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who have combined for 67 receptions for 829 yards and six touchdowns this season.
“They got weapons on the outside, at the tight end position, obviously, a well-coached team,” Joseph said. “They have a great running game, also. I think it's going to keep us honest in all areas.”