The Houston Texans defense came into Sunday’s contest vs the Tennessee Titans ranked 2nd in the NFL in total defense. The ‘Bulls on Parade’ defense left their mark once again in week 4. Bouyed by a secondary that was all over the field, the defense was a play making force in the Texans 38-14 rout of the Titans. The defensive backs had themselves a day, accounting for the same amount of points as the Titans scored as a team.
They were the primary culprits of a miserable day for Tennessee quarterbacks Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck. The misery on the field was brief for Locker, who was knocked out of the game early in the first quarter by FS Glover Quin. Quin came in untouched on a 3rd down safety blitz and leveled Locker, who did not see him until it was too late. The hit left Locker on the ground writhing in pain, and he would have to leave the game with a left shoulder injury.
That brought in the veteran, 37 year old Hasselbeck off of the bench and Houston’s secondary feasted on him as well. In last weeks’ 31-25 victory over the Denver Broncos, the Texans DBs were stout in coverage, breaking up 12 passes. However, they could have had an even bigger day against Peyton Manning, as they dropped at least 4 of those passes that should have been interceptions instead of deflections.
Hasselbeck wouldn’t be as fortunate, as the Houston secondary was opportunistic when they got their hands on the ball Sunday. After the Texans jumped out to a fast start with a 14-0 first quarter lead, Tennessee managed to slow the game down and went into halftime trailing 14-7. Attempting to drive and tie the game early in the third quarter, Hasselbeck threw a pass for TE Taylor Thompson that bounced off of his hands and into the air.
SS Danieal Manning picked the ball off at the Houston 45-yard line and headed the other way. CB Johnathan Joseph flattened Titans WR Nate Washington with a devastating block and 55 yards later, Manning was in the end zone and Reliant Stadium erupted as the Texans went up 14. The pick-six swung the momentum back to the Texans and was the play that turned a close, competitive game into a Houston rout.
Up 31-7 in the fourth quarter, CB Kareem Jackson got in on the defensive back fun. Jackson jumped a slant route by Titans WR Damien Williams and raced untouched to the end zone, high stepping the last 10 yards to put the Texans up 38-7 and put the proverbial icing on the cake. It was the first career touchdown for the much maligned Jackson, who has shown tremendous improvement in his third season. It was Jackson’s team leading 2nd pick of the year, and he also had 2 pass deflections, matching Manning for team high honors on the day.
It was the second time in franchise history that the Texans ran back two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game. The other one was in a 24-6 victory in Pittsburgh against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the inaugural 2002 season. They set the franchise record with three defensive scores that day, as they also returned a fumble for a score.
It was a career day for Jackson, who has always been a solid tackler from the corner position. This season, he has shown an improvement in his coverage technique and ability to turn his head and make plays on the ball. That development has made the Texans defense even more imposing to opposing offenses. With the Pro-Bowler Joseph on one side, opposing QBs have preferred to pick on Jackson for big plays in the passing game. From the looks of it early, that is not as appealing of an option it once was.
You would have been laughed at two seasons ago if you would have said that the Houston secondary would be the key to a Texans victory. As Peyton learned last week, times have changed in Houston, and the Texans defensive backs are no longer easy pickings. Along with Wade Phillips, second year defensive backs coach Vance Joseph should also get some recognition in this drastic improvement.
Houston improved from 32nd and dead last in the league in pass defense in 2010 to 3rd last season. That was catapulted by the arrival of Joseph and Manning in free agency, the shifting of Quin to safety from corner, and the accension of CB Brice McCain and FS Quintin Demps. The latter two were a pleasant surprise in 2011 and solidified Phillips’ nickel and dime packages.
Phillips did some more tinkering prior to this season, flip-flopping Manning and Quin at the safety positions. Manning moved from free safety to strong safety and Quin from strong to free safety. The Texans were ranked 4th in pass defense this season prior to Sunday’s game, allowing 188 yards per game. That ranking is sure to go up this week after holding Tennessee to 167 passing yards. The pass defense is no longer a liability for Houston, instead the secondary is now a primary cog in the ‘Bulls on Parade’.