The Texans’ run defense is broken. Can it be fixed?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock (13419247av) Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert, center, runs for a gain of 52 yards as Houston Texans defenders chase him during the second half of an NFL football game, in Chicago Texans Bears Football, Chicago, United States – 25 Sep 2022

The Texans’ run defense is broken. Can it be fixed?

It was a concerning performance by a unit that was supposed to be improved entering the season.

Perhaps you are old enough to remember the 2022 preseason, when the Texans’ run defense appeared to be improved from the units that got trampled the last two seasons and finished 31st (2021, 142.2 YPG) and 32nd (2020, 160.3 YPG) in rush yards allowed and rush yards per game.

It even seemed plausible, through the first three-quarters of Week 1 against the Colts, facing the best running back in the league, that the run defense was improved. Unfortunately, something called the fourth quarter happened, and the Texans allowed 63 of Jonathan Taylor’s 161 yards rushing in the final 4 minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.

It seems that may have been a turning point, and not for the better.

After their fourth-quarter implosion (perhaps due to being completely exhausted) led to Taylor averaging 5.2 YPC, they allowed 148 yards rushing to the Broncos in Week 2. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon combined for 25 carries and 122 yards, nearly 5 YPC.

The Broncos, however, have a potential future hall of famer at quarterback in Russell Wilson. Chicago has second-year quarterback Justin Fields, a quarterback who has struggled to lead a productive passing attack to this point.

Thus far, the Bears’ passing game has been non-existent. They have been a completely one-dimensional offense. Last week, Fields passed for 70 yards. That’s 70 yards for an entire game.

The Texans entered Week 3 with one job. Stop the bears running game. The passing game was not a threat. David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, and Justin Fields are all rushing threats, but if they could slow down the Bears’ rush attack, they could quickly get them off the field. It didn’t happen.

Picture this scenario: the opposing quarterback finishes the game 8/17 for 106 yards and 2 interceptions. You’d think that quarterback’s team would have lost by 30.

The Texans were the other team. They lost by 3.

How? The Bears rushers turned into Moses every time they touched the football, and the Texans were too happy to play the role of the Red Sea.

Houston allowed an incredible 281 yards rushing Sunday in Chicago. Bears lead RB David Montgomery left the game on Chicago’s second drive with an injury and never returned. They still gave up 281 yards rushing, and to a team that managed only 106 yards passing all game.

Chicago’s backup, second-year RB Khalil Herbert, rushed 20 times for a career-high 157 yards, an astonishing 7.9 YPC. The Bears overall ran 40 times for 281 yards, for an average of 7 YPC. The 281 yards rushing is the most by Chicago since 1984. That’s 38 years ago.

The Texans have allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL through 3 games, with 607. The Seahawks are second at 474 rush yards allowed. That’s 133 more rush yards allowed than any other team in the league. Only ten NFL teams currently allow that many rushing yards per game.

Let’s make those numbers pop more.

The Texans are allowing 202.3 rush yards/game. The Bears and Seahawks allow 157 rush yards/game; they are the next highest in the league. That is an astonishing gap. Two years ago, the Texans were dead last in rush defense, allowing 160.3 YPG. They’re current 42 YPG worse.

The score was close only because of the complete and utter futility of the Bears’ passing game. In reality, this was a game that even a competent run defense would have ensured an easy victory.

How to fix it remains a difficult question to answer. Perhaps, rookie LB Christian Harris will make a significant impact when he returns from the IR, but the earliest that can be is Week 5. The team doesn’t have the ability to sign anyone off the street even if they could find a player who would help, as they have a mere $1.4M in cap space available, according to Spotrac.

Answers are going to have to come from within, but for a team that may benefit from getting the highest possible draft pick it can, is it worth exploring?

This is a broken unit that desperately needs some kind of improvement, or this season will get away from Houston very quickly.

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