Texans defensive line trio were bright spots in loss to the Panthers

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HOUSTON — When the Houston Texans took on the Carolina Panthers Thursday night, there wasn’t a lot of positivity to take from the 24-9 defeat at NRG Stadium. But the eulogistic play of the defensive line became one of a handful of assessments the Texans could build on moving forward.

The front four was the primary reason the Texans had an opportunity to pull off an absurd upset against the Panthers until late in the fourth quarter. They applied pressure on Sam Darnold through the night, resulting in three sacks — two of which were strip fumbles recovered by Carolina.

Following the game, Darnold credited his sacks to poor decision-making for holding on to the ball too long. But the Texans’ ability to get after the quarterback is a testament to the improved defensive front.

“Our defensive line has been playing very, very hard,” coach David Culley said. “They put so much pressure on him [Sam Darnold] that we ended up having a couple of fumbles they created. Had we been able to get those, obviously we didn’t have any turnovers, neither one of us did — but those could have been game-changers. It just didn’t happen of us and that’s football.”

The Texans had several notable standouts on their defensive front against the Panthers, but none more so than Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Greenard and Jacob Martin.

The trio of linemen’s youth brought explosiveness and agility to Houston’s front four. Their performance against Carolina was not surprising to Culley, who stated he watches Blacklock, Greenard and Martin excel in their pass-rush every day at practice.

Blacklock and Greenard registered the two strip-sacks on Darnold for a combined loss of 11 yards in the second quarter. It was Blacklock’s first career sack, while Greenard added a career-best four tackles (two solo hits) in his season debut with the Texans. Martin ended the night with three tackles, one tackle for a loss.

“The pass-rush was definitely better this week,” Blacklock said. “Guys got a lot of action. We pride ourselves in the d-line room to be productive in any way form or fashion. Thursday night was good, but we could always be better.”

The lone negative Culley saw in his defensive line was the number of explosive plays they gave up versus the Panthers. Culley said the defensive front — and the entire defense — has to do a better job of executing when they have their opposition on 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long.

According to Culley, Carolina recorded eight explosive plays on offense while the Texans had three. He described the uneven production as “tough sledding.”

But it’s an issue Culley is on the brink of fixing with the play of Blacklock, Greenard and Martin leading the defensive front with more snaps in the future.

“I just wanted to get more reps — that was a big thing,” said Greenard. “But the team, just playing with the team and feeding off of them and how we play with each other, I think that makes our jobs easier upfront to make more plays and we’re more comfortable when they know what we’re doing.”

“I think us just having that full off-season with OTA’s and things like that, it helped us mesh well and understand our tendencies and playing with each other, so I think it’s a true testament of how we feed off of each other.”