Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mike Wulf/CSM/Shutterstock (13419566n) Chicago, Illinois, U.S. – Chicago Bears #24 Khalil Herbert is tackled by Houston Texans #36 Jonathan Owens during the game between the Houston Texans and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL NFL Texans at Bears, Chicago, USA – 25 Sep 2022
When it comes to running the ball and stopping the run, Sunday’s Texans-Chargers game at NRG Stadium will feature the NFL at its worst.
The Texans don’t just have the worst run defense in the league – they own that dubious distinction by 52.3 yards.
Through three games, the 0-2-1 Texans surrender 202.3 yards. The Bears and Seahawks are tied for 30th against the run, allowing 150 each. How embarrassing is that?
The Texans’ run defense and the Chargers’ running game were in rare form in Sunday defeats.
In the Texans’ 23-20 loss at Chicago, they gave up 281 yards rushing, the Bears’ most prolific performance since 1984. And they did it with backup running back Khalil Herbert producing 157 yards, including 7.9 a carry, and two touchdowns.
As for the 1-2 Chargers, they rushed 12 times for 26 yards in a 38-10 home loss to the Jaguars. Yes, the Jaguars.
The Chargers average 59 yards rushing and 2.6 a carry, and they haven’t scored a rushing touchdown this season. It’s going to be more difficult for them to improve because they’ve lost their outstanding left tackle, Rashawn Slater, for the season with a torn bicep tendon.
Slater, the Sugar Land native who played at Clements High School before going to Northwestern, was a first-round pick last year and became an instant success. He’ll be hard to replace on an offensive line that’s been mediocre as it is.
The Chargers are desperate to improve their running game because quarterback Justin Herbert has injured ribs that cause him constant pain and affect his throwing.
Against the Jaguars, Herbert took a beating. The running game didn’t help him. The Chargers averaged 2.2 yards a carry. Their two best backs, Austin Ekeler and Sony Michel, combined for nine carries and 27 yards. For the season, Ekeler has 32 carries for 80 yards (2.5 average) and Michel 16 for 47 (2.9).
Chargers coach Brandon Staley won’t come out and say it, of course, but the Texans’ pathetic run defense could be the elixir his team needs to fix what ails a miserable running game.
For anyone who’s watched how wretched the Texans’ run defense is, this statistic is going to be difficult to fathom: Believe it or not, the 607 yards rushing the Texans have allowed isn’t the worst three-game start in team history.
The worst was in 2009, Gary Kubiak’s fourth season as coach. In the first three games that season, Frank Bush’s defense allowed 615 yards.
Bush’s defense recovered. It allowed fewer than 100 yards in 10 of the last 13 games, finishing with a 106.9 average on a 9-7 team.
Do you think Lovie Smith’s defense can make that kind of transformation?
If they’re going to, Sunday would be a good time to start.
In December of last season, the Texans defeated the Chargers 41-29 at NRG Stadium. They limited the Chargers to 89 yards rushing. And get this: The Texans ran for 189 yards.
Rex Burkhead – yes, the same Rex Burkhead who’s getting ripped across Houston this season – had 22 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
The Texans need that same kind of performance running and against the run.
It’s amazing when you think about the difficulties the Texans have had stopping the run. Defensive coordinators, position coaches and players come and go, but run defense remains a serious problem.
In 2020, Romeo Crennel was the defensive coordinator and interim coach after Bill O’Brien was fired, and the Texans finished 31st against the run (160.3 yards). Crennel was the architect of the Texans’ best run defense. They allowed 82.7 yards in 2018 when they finished 11-5. Then O’Brien traded or didn’t re-sign defensive players like outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, nose tackle D.J. Reader and free safety Tyrann Mathieu – and the run defense has never been the same.
Last season, with Smith as the coordinator, they finished 32nd against the run (142.3). Now Smith is in his second season overseeing the defense, and the Texans are even worse so far by 60 yards.
It’s preposterous that free safety Joathan Owens is tied for the NFL lead with 36 tackles – the same number as Chicago linebacker Roquan Smith, who dominated the Texans with 16 tackles, including two for loss, and a sack. That’s what a middle linebacker is supposed to do in the NFL.
As for Owens, if the Texans’ front seven doesn’t start to improve against the run, he’s going to absorb more punishment than a running back, and that’s an indictment of the poor performance of the defensive players in front of him.
(John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).