HOUSTON -- If you look up the two biggest rushing performances by a team this season, the Houston Texans will appear twice, but not for the right reasons.
If you search for the most rushing yards for a player in a single game this season, the answer, again, involves the Texans, as Titans’ running back Derrick Henry finished with 219 yards on 32 carries in Week 8.
The Texans (1-6-1) have lost three straight games, the most recent a 29-17 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) in Week 9, and it doesn't get any easier Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) as they travel to the New York Giants (6-2) who feature third-leading rusher Saquon Barkley, who has 779 yards rushing and five touchdowns.
All season, the Texans' weekly defensive issues have centered around stopping the run. But coach Lovie Smith admitted the solution ranges beyond just a single aspect.
“It’s just not one thing I can tell you," Smith said. "I know you asked me pointed questions on 'do this, fix that.' That’s just not how the world works. That’s not how a defense works. That’s not how football works. This is what we do. If there’s an issue, and there’s been an issue, we constantly practice it.”
Despite trying to correct the issue, the Texans have still struggled to stop the run -- even when they know it's coming.
So the Titans’ game plan was clear: Rely heavily on Henry.
And the Texans still couldn’t stop him, or even Dontrell Hilliard -- who added 83 rushing yards.
"We changed personnel. Believe it or not, we changed up ways to actually practice and try to get it better, Smith said. "Sometimes, it just takes more time. Things don’t happen overnight. That’s what I’m going to say.
“We’re just going to go to practice, and we’re not combing our hair or something at practice. We’re practicing trying to get freaking better.”
The Texans’ run defense has handcuffed the defensive unit from reaching its ceiling because there are positives.
In today’s NFL, where the passing game has become more prevalent, the Texans’ defense is tied for fifth-most in interceptions (7). And they force quarterbacks into a passer rating of 82, eighth-best. In addition, the pass defense is one of five teams that hasn’t allowed more touchdowns (7) than it has interceptions.
But the Texans’ run defense has simply overshadowed that.
They’ve allowed 1,445 rushing yards (most in the NFL), 12 touchdowns (third-most) and 5.5 yards per carry (third-most) through eight games.
Running backs have feasted against the Texans. Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor reached 161 yards in Week 1, seventh-most in a single game this season. And it's Taylor’s only 100-yard rushing performance of the season.
The list goes on.
The main groups capable of fixing the issue are the defensive line and linebackers. But linebacker and team captain Christian Kirksey remains optimistic about improving that aspect of their defense.
"Just feel like we haven’t been making the plays and being as disciplined as we could be,” Kirksey told ESPN. “We have to clean that up. I don’t think we’re far off. I think we got the right people in the right places. Just gotta get the job done. It’s gonna break for us.”
But despite all of the issues, Smith does expect the run defense to turn the corner at some point.
“I understand the questions about our run defense,” Smith said, "and eventually it will get better."
The Texans are hoping that things turn around this weekend, but they know what lies in front of them with Barkley and the Giants' rush attack -- which ranks fifth.
"[Barkley's] polished all around," Kirksey said. "He can catch the ball out the backfield, and he can see certain cuts. His vision is elite, his balance is elite, [he's] got the total package. So we just gotta get ready for that."