Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Derek Rivers lead strong Texans DL preseason debut

Football games are won or lost in the trenches. To open preseason, the Houston Texans defeated the New Orleans Saints 17-13, thanks in large part to their five sacks and timely pressure from the defensive line.

Leading the way for Houston was the New England Patriot’s 2017 third-round pick, Derek Rivers. The fifth-year defensive end joined Houston in 2021, along with Nick Caserio but only played in five games last season.

Rivers looked more comfortable as he got around New Orleans’ tackles and into the face of quarterback Ian Book. He even put the cherry on top of the night, with a victory-sealing sack in the fourth quarter.

Coach Lovie Smith plans on rotating his defensive line and playing eight guys to keep everyone fresh, which means depth is monumental for Houston. In addition to Rivers, another defensive end who was instrumental to the Texans defensive success was Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

The fourth-year pro spent his first three seasons with the Rams and only had 4.5 sacks to his name. However, Okoronkwo’s get-off, bend, and relentless motor were on full display for Houston’s defense. He first put fans to notice by displaying keen awareness and the reactionary quickness to recovery a fumble in the second quarter.

That fumble recovery marked one of three turnovers the Texans’ defense forced vs the Saints, a pivotal reason for their victory. Furthermore, Okoronkwo struck the box score again with a sack later in the game, pushing the Saints deep into their own red zone.

The eye-popping plays were momentum altering; however, Okoronkwo also tallied numerous pressures which forced Saints’ quarterbacks to speed up their throw or scramble out of the pocket. One of these pressures even resulted in a sack for undrafted rookie defensive tackle, Kurt Hinish.

On the above play, Okoronkwo is lined up vs the Saints’ right tackle and takes an inside rush to quickly get into the backfield. This swift pressure forces Book to escape to his right, where Hinish is ready to contain for the sack.

Houston will need their defensive line to work in tandem like this more often. Last season, the Texans finished with the fourth-fewest sacks and third-fewest pressures in the NFL.

If new faces like Okoronkwo and a more comfortable Rivers — who has been on a roll in training camp — continue to make plays like tonight, perhaps an improved pass rush is on its way.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire