DEPENDING ON THE D

The Texans will need to rely on their defense to win games, and Sunday they were not good enough

Lamar Houston's touchdown kept Houston in the game. Tim Warren/Getty Images

The Deshaun Watson-less Texans looked a lot like the 2016 Texans on Sunday. Only worse.

Ineffective on offense. Relying solely on a defense that gives up big plays, but also makes them. And that’s how Sunday’s game against the Colts played out.

And it was not good enough. The Colts came up with two big plays on offense to the one by the Texans defense, and that was the difference in the game in a 20-14 Colts victory at NRG Stadium.

If they Texans (3-5) are going to win, it is going to be because they play solid defense. And not give up big plays. They weren’t bad on Sunday, but they were not good enough, giving up two big touchdown passes.

And that was against the Colts, perhaps the weakest team left on their schedule not named San Francisco.

The defense gave up a long early touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton and fell in a 10-0 hole. But just before the half, Eddie Pleasant came up with a strip sack, and Lamar Houston ran it in for the score. That was as close as they would get.

Eddie Pleasant. Lamar Houston. Not the names you expected when the season started. But without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, this is what the Texans are.

D.J. Reader. Marcus Gilchrist. Carlos Watkins. These were the players the Texans were forced to rely on. And will be moving ahead.

And it wasn’t good enough. Against the Colts. Hilton made another big play on an 80-yard score in the third quarter, and that was all she wrote. On that play, Andre Hal did not touch Hilton down, and he got up and took it to the house.

We all know the offense will struggle without Watson. And Tom Savage lived down to expectations, much as he did last season, when he and Brock Osweiler were manning the ship. That is what the offense will be. It produced seven points against a bad defense.

Seven.

They drove deep into Colts territory on the final minute, but typically bad clock management ended with a sack/fumble to close out the game.

So it is the other side of the ball that will be asked to win games, no small feat considering who is missing on defense. They were able to stay in the game Sunday thanks to a defensive score. But will they be able to do that against better offenses?

The Rams, who can both run the ball and get big games out of QB Jared Goff, loom next. Then a Cardinals team and who knows what the quarterback situation will look like for them? Ravens, Titans...even the 49ers now that they have Jimmy Garropolo -- will have better QB situations than the Texans. And the defense will have to stop them.

Hal. Brandon Dunn. Brennan Scarlett. These will be the names that will will support Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Bernardrick McKinney and of course Jadeveon Clowney.

They were not bad on Sunday. But they weren’t good enough.

Moving forward, they will have to be so much better. And with names like that on the field, it might not be possible.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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