Sarah Barshop, ESPN Staff Writer 20d

Pressure is on Texans' defense after injury to Deshaun Watson



HOUSTON -- Up four points with less than two minutes remaining on Sunday, the Houston Texans' defense took the field, attempting to stop quarterback Russell Wilson to hold on to a wild victory against the Seattle Seahawks.

Instead, Wilson led the Seahawks on a three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to give Seattle the lead and eventually drop the Texans to a 3-4 record.

“[Head coach Bill O'Brien] leaned on the defense at the end of the game,” defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. "We've been there before. We've closed games out before, and we've let some slip away."

Now the Texans will have to rely even more on their defense after losing rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right leg. Watson has kept them in games all season, even though the defense has allowed an average of 26.9 points per game, which ranks 29th in the NFL.

This season, the Texans have scored 30-plus points a league-high five times, but they are 2-3 in those games. Houston is 36-3 when scoring 30-plus points since the franchise's first season in 2002, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"Thirty points is a lot of points, of course," Clowney said. "Our defense, we're battling, man. Nobody's holding their heads down. All the guys on our team battle, and we go out there no matter who we have with us. We go to war every week. Those guys compete at a high level. Things just don't happen as always planned."

The Texans defense is dealing with quite a few injuries of its own, including losing defensive end J.J. Watt (broken leg), outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (torn pectoral muscle) and defensive end Christian Covington (torn biceps) for the season. Without Mercilus -- who led the Texans with 7.5 sacks in 2016 -- the unit has struggled to get to the quarterback. The Texans have just 17 sacks and rank 13th in the league in sacks per pass attempt.

"When you look at the game [Sunday], you look at Russell Wilson, [he] just did a great job of extending plays, and that's hurt us all year," O'Brien said. "I thought our defense did a great job of stopping the run, but there were too many X-plays, too many pass plays that were 20 yards or more down the field. Our guys need to do a better job of combining coverage and rush."

Earlier in the season, after the Texans scored a franchise-high 57 points against the Tennessee Titans, Watt said it was a welcome change to see the offense put up points and move the ball in a way the unit had not been able to in recent years. Now, with Tom Savage under center, the Texans will likely not be able to keep up in the offensive shootouts they've been playing in recently, including losses to the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Seahawks.

"You'd rather not sit there and trade touchdowns," defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel said. "That's not our goal. Our goal is to stop them and get off the field on third down.

"We played a bunch of red zone stops [on Sunday]. So it's in there, and we can do it, and we stopped them."

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