(SportsRadio 610) - Sometimes the Texans embrace the cowboy theme a bit too much.
While the offense took a step forward this past week against the Indianapolis Colts, the defense took a big step back from their debut in Baltimore.
I’m not a fan of the two-step anyway, especially when it yields the kind of results it has for the Texans.
Similar to my skills on the dance floor, the Texans were literally running into each other at times as they seemed muddled trying to keep up with Colts receivers.
Whether it be miscommunication, scheme or simply getting beat, the Texans desperately need to get at least one of their two injured starters back in the secondary.
While Jalen Pitre missed another practice as he continues to recover from a bruised lung suffered against the Ravens week one, veteran safety Jimmie Ward was a limited participant in practice Wednesday.
That’s a significant step for the 10-year veteran, who has yet to take a snap for his new team since following DeMeco Ryans over from San Francisco. Ward injured his hip during the team's preseason finale against the Saints and would immediately provide the secondary with an instinctive playmaker.
“He provides versatility to us on the defensive side of the ball, so happy to see him back out at practice, back working with us as well,” Ryans said. “Fired up to see him just progress throughout the week and have him for the game hopefully.”
It’s imperative that Ward have a good and healthy week of practice as the secondary took a major hit against the Colts, losing Tavierre Thomas to a broken hand which required surgery.
While there’s no timetable for Thomas’ return, the Texans are having to rely upon seldom used defensive back Grayland Arnold to assume the role of nickel corner.
“Grayland has earned the right to get reps,” Ryans said. “Grayland is a hard worker. He’s there, he’s dialed in to what we are asking him to do. He flies around, plays physical. I know Grayland will do well with the role.”
Arnold stepped in admirably when Thomas went down in the first half against the Colts, playing in 33% of the defensive snaps.
However, the undersized former Baylor safety has predominantly been a special teams ace and will have his hands full along with the rest of the defense going against Trevor Lawrence on Sunday in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars, coming off a 17-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at home, in which they failed to score a touchdown, did put up 31 points on the Colts in their week one victory.
While keeping things close against the Chiefs would normally be considered a small win in and of itself, the Jags are the favorite to win the AFC South this season and have higher aspirations than years past. The inconsistent offense ranks 21st in scoring, 24th in red zone and 32nd in third-down conversions.
Meanwhile, Ryans and his Texans defense is hoping that his unit gets right before the Jaguars figure things out offensively.
“Lawrence gets the ball out really quickly, I think fastest in the NFL,” Ryans said. “We have to be tight in our coverage and we have to tackle well in space. Ball is going to be out, the space, the RPOs, the screens, we know it’s coming. Now, we have to make sure we’re on our job, details, setting the edge, making the ball cut back inside and our guys are running.”
That brings us to the linebackers.
The most disconcerting so far from the defense has been the lack of physicality and execution, particularly from the linebackers.
Missed tackles were a big issue last season within the position group and continues to be this season. Of the Texans' 11 missed tackles during Sunday’s loss to the Colts, the group of Denzel Perryman, Christian Harris and rookie Henry To’oTo’o missed six.
Easily one of the most overlooked groups heading into training camp, as all of attention was focused on the quarterbacks, receivers and the defensive line, it’s now one of the team's most glaring holes.
As it became more clear throughout training camp and the preseason that Ryans was going to encourage the edge rushers to get wide, put their head down and rush the quarterback and funnel any runs back toward the middle of the field, the pressure that philosophy naturally puts on the linebacker core was concerning from day one.
Perryman is the only linebacker that has shown any propensity to be a thumper of sorts but even he along with To’oTo’o struggled mightily with their run fits against the Colts.
“They just have to keep going, keep playing fast, keep playing physical,” Ryans said. “The more reps they’ll get, the better they’ll get at what we are doing. So, I know we’ve got good, young linebackers who can go play, just have to show it.”
If by ‘keep’ Ryans means start, he’s correct.
The big play ability that Jaguars running back Travis Etienne possesses should be familiar to some of the Texans that were on the squad last season. The former first-round pick averaged 9.4 yards per carry in two games against the Texans last season, amassing 179 yards rushing on just 19 carries.