(SportsRadio 610) - The Texans will be looking for their third consecutive win Sunday afternoon at NRG, the kind of run they haven’t been able to put together since the 2018 season.
One would hope the Texans could find a less dramatic way to do it this weekend than they have the previous two weeks, having orchestrated game winning drives on their final offensive possession in a couple of thrilling wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, bracing for what many want to call a "trap game," with Kyler Murray and the 2-8 Arizona Cardinals coming to town, the Texans aren’t necessarily expecting the Cards to be an easy out.
Defensive coordinator Matt Burke, in his first season with the Texans, spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals as their defensive line coach. Having watched Kyler Murray drive defenses crazy for 11 weeks before his ACL injury, particularly his own in practices, Burke said while there’s a small sample size from Murray’s return this season, it’s difficult to see any rust in the fifth-year quarterback.
“Yeah, it’s hard, it’s just the one game,” Burke said. “The thing that stood out to me last week on tape was just, I don’t see him missing a beat. Everyone kind of didn’t know from a physical standpoint, throws, running, all those things, like where he would be. I think he looks exactly like he looked chasing him around last year for nine months or whatever it was.”
Murray's elusiveness is what has made him so difficult to prepare for. He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks to sack in the league, ranking ninth-toughest all-time with a 6.23% career sack percentage.
“There’s no clock for him,” Burke said. “It doesn’t bother him to hold on to it to keep going, to keep going, to keep going. Some guys after a point, it’s maybe like, ‘Ah, I got to press or get rid of the ball – throw it.’ Like there’s no clock. When (head coach) DeMeco (Ryans) talked about covering twice and rushing twice, that’s what we’re talking about with him.”
Making his return to the field last Sunday for the Cardinals in their 25-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons, Murray finished 19-of-32 in the air for 249 yards with an interception and two sacks, but ran it six times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Murray used his elusiveness and uncanny ability to extend plays on the final drive of the game. Before completing a 33-yard pass to tight end Trey McBride, he scrambled 13 yards on a 3rd-and-10, when he should’ve been dead to rights.
When a play breaks down, defensive linemen, linebackers, safeties and corners, everybody has secondary responsibilities.
That’s what the major coaching point from DeMeco Ryans and Matt Burke has been this week. That’s exactly what covering twice and rushing twice mean.
Burke laughed at the idea of playing Murray this weekend would "be fun." He and the Texans defense will also have their hands full with running back James Conner, who has made the best of limited work this season with his tough running style.
The 6’1, 233-pound back is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season.
Overall, while the Cardinals (2-8) have struggled in many other areas this season, they are running the ball very well, averaging 126.5 yards per game on the ground, which ranks ninth best in the NFL.
The Texans currently boast the eighth best run defense in the league, holding opponents to just 93.6 yards per game. They have kept their opponents under the century-mark in five consecutive games, something a Texans defense hasn’t done since the 2019 season.
Something will have to give on Sunday.
“I would say that he’s probably the lifeblood of their offense whether from an emotional, physical standpoint,” Burke said. “I told the guys, he seeks contact. He’s a physical runner. He finishes runs. When he gets in the open field, he’s not looking to make guys miss. He’s looking to go through people. I think the team feeds off of that.”
The lifeblood of the Texans offense, C.J. Stroud, has had to flex his muscle in crunch time for the past two weeks.
While the Texans have fed off his poise and composure in tough situations recently, it would be nice if they could at least make things a bit more comfortable Sunday. If for no one else, for special teams coach Frank Ross, who’s been on a rollercoaster of emotions in consecutive weeks, having had to rely on a third-string running back in Dare Ogunbowale to kick a pivotal 29-yard field goal against the Bucs and newly-signed kicker Matt Ammendola to boot a game-winner against the Bengals.