HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens played in Week 11 last year, it was billed as a thrilling matchup between two young quarterbacks contending to be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Instead, it became the Lamar Jackson show. He outplayed Deshaun Watson -- and cemented his MVP status -- in what turned out to be the Texans’ worst defensive performance of the season, a 41-7 loss.
For Houston, the performance was similar to how the Texans played in the 2020 season opener last Thursday. They were overmatched in a 34-20 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, allowing long drives, tackling poorly and conceding too many third-down conversions.
To have a chance to avoid an 0-2 start, the Texans’ defense needs to tackle much better than it did against Kansas City against Baltimore on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
“I expect better tackling [going forward],” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “We’ve had an opportunity to do it live and we didn’t do it that well. So, I sure as s--- hope we do it better this week.”
Houston’s defense started 2020 by struggling against Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. That’s especially concerning given the way the Ravens ran over the Texans last year. They rushed for 256 yards, including 79 from Jackson.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien said the Texans missed 20 tackles against the Chiefs.
“Everybody just needs to do their job better,” O’Brien said. “Every offense is different, so with what the Chiefs were doing is different than what the Ravens are going to do, but it still comes down to playing your gap and doing what the call dictates you to do, and then you’ve got to make the tackle. ... In the end, we have to tackle better, we have to play our gap better and we just need to do a more consistent, better job at defending the run.”
Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver said he knows it “stinks” to give up 166 rushing yards. But he was “more concerned about the lack of turnovers."
“The rush defense is the rush defense, and that has to get better, and that will improve with time and with practice and now getting to play full-speed games,” Weaver said. “We’ve got to take the ball away. You look at the game Baltimore played against Tennessee last year, the playoff game. Tennessee won the game, and that’s all you hear about. They also gave up 183 yards rushing and 530 yards of offense. But they had three turnovers. So we’ve got to get the ball away.”
In the first half against the Chiefs, the Texans weren’t able to establish an offensive rhythm. That further hindered their defense, making them stay on the field for the large majority of the first half. At the two-minute warning of the first half in Kansas City, the Chiefs had more than doubled the Texans on time of possession, 18:46 to 9:14. It was not a recipe for success.
“We didn’t give up big pass plays, but we gave up 160 yards rushing [against the Chiefs],” O’Brien said. “I think they had the ball for 19 minutes in the first half and some of that has to do with the offense, too. We’ve got to stay on the field, too, on offense.”
So how do the Texans avoid an overtired defense? A large part of it will be controlling the ball and clock on offense. Running back David Johnson could be a large part of that.
Johnson ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while playing 81% of snaps in his first game with the Texans since coming over in the DeAndre Hopkins trade. Fellow running back Duke Johnson, who left the opener with a sprained ankle, has been limited in practice but did participate on Thursday. If he can’t play, expect David Johnson to be even more active.
Defensively, it’s never easy to face a player as dynamic as Jackson.
“He’s just got a very unique skill set,” O’Brien said. “Obviously, he’s very fast; he’s very quick. Over time, he’s become a better passer. He’s a very accurate passer. He does a really good job using all the people around him.”
One advantage the Texans will have this season is that Watt will be on the field. He tore his pectoral muscle three weeks before last year’s matchup in Baltimore and without him, the Texans struggled to put pressure on Jackson, failing to record a sack.
When Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was asked about having to face Watt this time, he said, “That’s not a fun conversation.”
“That falls in the nightmare category,” Roman said. “Year after year, I’ve seen him wreck games.”