HOUSTON -- In the week leading up to the Houston Texans’ game against the New England Patriots, defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver was asked about his team’s run defense, which entered Sunday ranked worst in the NFL.
Weaver was passionate, to say the least, in defending his unit.
“This narrative that’s being painted like my guys aren’t disciplined and running around blocks, quite frankly, and to put it bluntly, is bulls---,” Weaver said. “My guys play hard. They battle. They’re doing the absolute best they can and they leave their everything they have on that football field to go out there and stone the run.”
On Sunday, it looked like it was going to be more of the same as the Patriots marched down the field on their opening drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown run when running back Damien Harris ran untouched into the end zone. But after that drive the defense turned it around, ending the game allowing just 86 rushing yards to a team that entered the game ranked third in the NFL in rushing.
“Obviously, we all know that we've had our struggles against the run this year so far ... so for us to hold them to 86 yards is a huge accomplishment for us,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “I think our defense deserves a lot of credit for the way everybody played today. Everybody doing their assignment, making the tackles. It was a great all-around game by the guys, and I'm very proud of the way they did that.”
What was the difference, compared to what the Texans had been doing against the run all season?
“You know, I tell you guys all the time, the consistency,” interim head coach Romeo Crennel said. “Consistency of technique and guys doing their job, and doing their job first and then trying to help out. A lot of times it comes to toughness and leverage, playing against double-teams and not guessing. And so, we did that today against a good running team, a team who's top of the league as far as the run goes. And then we were able to slow that down. Then they started to throw the ball, and they hadn't been throwing it as well overall because they'd been running the ball.
“And so now you kind of put them out of their element a little bit, particularly when you've got J.J. [Watt] coming off the edge and being disruptive the way he was, kept getting the quarterback off the spot. So that helped us a lot today.”
The Texans didn’t force a turnover against New England, but they did get some noteworthy plays from their most noteworthy playmakers.
Watt set a career high with four batted passes Sunday, one on a key third-down play with 1 minute and 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter with the Patriots driving and the Texans clinging to a seven-point lead. Watt is just the second player in the past 10 seasons with four batted passes in a game.
“I enjoy seeing that from J.J.,” Crennel said, “... because when J.J. is on, they know he's coming. He gets the quarterback off the spot and makes it tough for the quarterback to get his feet set and throw the ball down the field. And so some of that occurred today, and J.J. is knocking balls down.”
Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, now has 59 career batted passes, 15 more than any other player since he entered the league in 2011.
“He’s J.J. Watt,” Patriots quarterback Cam Newton said. “He's an All-Pro, perennial All-Pro. He's a Defensive Player of the Year, one of the best players in this generation.”
The Texans’ defense not only held New England on the ground but held an opponent to 20 or fewer points for just the third time this season.
“It's no secret that our defense hasn't been playing at the level that we expect to play at or that we want to play at, so we're obviously trying to, every single week, trying to turn that around,” Watt said. “I think today was a good step to doing that, and now we have a short week to come back on Thursday and we have a chance to take another step in doing that. And the only way that you can do it is to go out there and prove it, and I think today was a good step in that.”