After coming into the season as a dark-horse candidate to win the AFC South and make their first playoff appearance, the Houston Texans are off to a slow start thanks to their inability to stop other teams.
Defense hasn’t been much of a problem for the Oakland Raiders’ opponents so far.
The Texans hope their league-worst defense can start to find some answers against one of the NFL’s least productive offenses when they host the Raiders on Sunday.
Houston (1-2) matched the best record in franchise history at 8-8 last season and expected to make the leap to contender in 2009. To follow through on those plans, however, it will likely need to address the gaping holes in its defense.
The Texans are giving up a league-high 436.3 yards per game, nearly 100 more than their average from last season. They’ve been particularly vulnerable against the run, ranking last in the NFL by allowing 204.7 yards per game. Only four other teams are giving up more than 150.
Houston surrendered 184 rushing yards and four touchdown runs in a 31-24 home loss to previously winless Jacksonville last Sunday.
“It’s something we’re stumped with right now as coaches, but it’s our job to figure that out,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “They’re our guys. We got to have them in position to make those plays and have them doing the same thing consistently. Obviously we did not do that.”
Kubiak’s defense has been consistently frustrated on third down, letting opponents convert 50 percent of the time—tied for second-worst in the league. It allowed plays of 17, 10, 16 and 28 yards on third downs against the Jaguars, one week after giving up touchdown runs of 57 and 91 yards on third and long in a 34-31 win over Tennessee.
“When it’s third and long, we’ve got to get off the football field,” cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) said. “Third week in a row, we’re singing the same song. The players have to get it fixed. (Defensive coordinator) Frank Bush is putting us in great situations. We’re not going out there and taking care of our business.”
The Texans appear to have a good chance of solving some of their defensive woes against the Raiders (1-2). Oakland ranks 31st out of 32 teams with 223.0 yards per game and 30th with 12.0 points per contest.
After a relatively strong showing in a season-opening defeat, the Raiders have averaged 151.5 yards and 8.0 points.
JaMarcus Russell(notes) has taken much of the blame for Oakland’s rough start. The first overall pick of the 2007 draft is the NFL’s lowest-rated passer, completing a league-low 41.3 percent of his throws for 378 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. He was 12 for 21 for 61 yards, no TDs and two picks in last Sunday’s 23-3 home loss to Denver.
Coach Tom Cable doesn’t think it’s fair to make Russell the scapegoat and isn’t ready to make a quarterback change.
“I know it’s on everyone’s mind,” Cable said. “I think right now, the big picture is for this team to clean up a lot of areas. If that was the only area that I thought really needed to be changed, then it’s easy, but it’s not.”
Russell’s play was far from the only negative in the loss to the Broncos. While Oakland’s running backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, the defense gave up 215 yards rushing, put no pressure on Kyle Orton(notes) and struggled at times in pass coverage.
“It’s too easy just to blame one guy and say that’s a problem,” said Cable, whose team committed three turnovers and was outgained 372-137 overall.
“Let’s stop the run, let’s run the ball better, let’s tackle better, let’s be more explosive on special teams, let’s play better at quarterback, let’s have better ball security. I mean, you start looking at the issues here and in particular to (Sunday), there’s enough work for all of us.”
The Raiders lost their first three meetings with the Texans before a 27-16 home victory last season. Russell delivered one of the best performances of his young career, going 18 for 25 for 236 yards, two TDs and no picks.