Texans defense came up big late in win over Titans

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) is tackled by Houston Texans cornerback Desmond King II (25) during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022. Titans Texans 069

Texans defense came up big late in win over Titans

Three fourth quarter takeaways and six straight defensive stops keyed the Texans’ comeback victory in Nashville.

The Houston Texans’ second win of the season was a long time coming. There had been signs for the past two weeks: improved defensive play against both the run and pass, improved quarterback play from Davis Mills, better offensive line play, and strong special teams work. It just had never all come together the way it finally did Sunday in Tennessee.

The defense was as big a part of this win as anything, earning six straight stops in the second half after allowing the Titans to score on their opening possession of the third quarter. Those stops included three turnovers and a fourth-down stand.

“Defensively, the guys (have) been playing hard and playing well for a while, for a period of time now. Nobody harps on taking the ball away more than we do. And I think our three rookies, Jalen Pitre, rookie. Christian Harris, rookie, and then Jake Hansen with the takeaways. All of those were big. Ogbonnia (Okoronkwo) continues to rush to pass well. Guys just follow. I mean, all kind of took time doing it. In an ideal world, you know, you want to play on Christmas Eve and now the guys get a chance to spend time and enjoy Christmas with their families. But we needed this one.”

That was part of Texans’ head coach Lovie Smith’s opening remarks after the win Sunday, a win he and the team have been chasing since their Week 5 victory in Jacksonville over the Jaguars. The Texans’ defense produced four sacks, five quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, and five passes defensed in addition to the three fourth quarter takeaways.

Okoronkwo had a huge game with two sacks, three tackles for loss, and a pair of quarterback hits. Hansen forced a critical Derrick Henry fumble that was recovered by Jon Greenard early in the fourth quarter that really changed momentum in the game. Harris had a big interception that put the Titans into desperation mode and the Pitre picked off a Hail Mary on the final play of the game to seal the win.

The run defense struggled early, allowing a 48-yard touchdown run to Henry where plowed through the middle of the defense with ease. After that, it did a much better job holding the star running back in check. Henry had four consecutive games with at least 200 yards rushing against Houston entering Sunday’s contest, but was held to 126 yards in the Texans’ victory. 126 is a lot of yards, but compared to 200+, and considering Henry is arguably the best running back in football, 126 rushing yards allowed to Henry represents a significant improvement.

Those facts were not lost on Lovie Smith:

I guess just disciplined football when you play against a back like that. We know he’s going to get the ball quite a bit and it’s got to be discipline in your gaps. And when you get an opportunity to make the tackle, you got to make the play. First drive and we missed about three tackles I think on that long run that he had. From there, you just got to learn from your mistakes and keep fighting. And again, that’s what this group has done all year. They just keep fighting and adjusting. Adjustments just don’t happen at the half, you know, each play. I thought the coaching staff did a good job of doing some of the things we need to do to get the win.

Smith has preached limiting mistakes and winning the turnover battle all season. That is exactly what Houston did Sunday:

If you go back and look at – a lot of times you look at the stats. I got out of this yard, just terrible on run defense. No, we missed tackles and some critical moments is what has happened. And if you miss certain tackles in critical moments, it can be a breakout. Explosive. That’s what has happened. We’ve limited that. That’s what we’ve done here lately. And at the same time, guys, I’m going to go back. The three takeaways we had, those are rookies. So it just takes a little bit of time to get it right. And I’m going to say this, again, but if you’re looking at that football team right now, they’ve gotten some things right from run defense to needing a drive. In football, offense is who’s going to have to go down and score some drives late. So there’s some hurdles we’re getting over right now. Merry Christmas to all of y’all.

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