The Texans are 4-2 for the first time ever and tied for first place in the AFC South, but they're licking their wounds as they head into their bye week.
Players got their first of five days off on Wednesday. For a long list of injured players, that's an extra week to rehab and recover. For a reeling defense that just lost captain DeMeco Ryans for the season, it's a chance to regroup. For starting left tackle Duane Brown, who just returned from a four-game suspension, it's an extra week to get refreshed.
"I think we need a break right now," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We've got some guys nicked up and need to get some things squared away, so it comes at a good time."
Daniels has been nursing a hamstring injury during his comeback from offseason ACL surgery. Wide receiver Andre Johnson has been dealing with a high-ankle sprain since Week 2. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones has a calf injury. Defensive end Mario Williams has been questionable for the last two games – first with a groin injury that required an MRI, and then with a shoulder injury.
The Texans suited up only four linebackers in Week 6 because Xavier Adibi (hamstring), Kevin Bentley (knee) and Darryl Sharpton (ankle/hand) were out with injuries. Also inactive were guard Mike Brisiel (knee), wide receiver Dorin Dickerson (knee), cornerback Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and defensive end Jesse Nading (knee). Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell tweaked his ankle in the game.
Linebacker Brian Cushing (knee), running back Derrick Ward (ribs) and safety Dominique Barber (ribs) all were on the injury report last week as well.
"We're going to get these guys healthy and be in the training room more than any other place," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Tuesday. "We're going to make up our extra days Monday and Tuesday of next week. We've just got to get these guys healthy."
The Texans rank 31st in defense (410.5 yards/game), 32nd in pass defense (306.2 yards/game) and are tied for 30th in points allowed (27.8/game). Missed assignments and poor tackling have been two of the main culprits.
"Yeah, we're 4-2, but I think from a defensive standpoint, the beatings that we've taken and just all the things that have been going on, it just really seems like we have a losing record," safety Bernard Pollard said. "I think it's time for us to evaluate ourselves and look in the mirror and just change the things that need to be fixed."
Last season, the Texans had the worst defense in the league through three games. They turned it around and became the fourth-best defense in the NFL over the final 13 games. By and large, this year's defense is comprised of the same group of players.
"I think last year, it was all attitude," cornerback Glover Quin said. "Teams were just running the ball down our throat and we weren't man-ing up and being able to stop it. We had to change attitude and be more physical and stop the run, and this year, I feel like it's the same thing.
"Teams aren't just running the ball on us, they're throwing the ball on us as well. It's going to take attitude. It's going to take mental toughness to just say, 'It's not happening.' We can't continue to let it happen. We can't continue to let teams put up this many yards on us. We won't be happy with our season result if we continue on this trend."
Any improvements will have to be made without Ryans, the defense's quarterback, surest tackler and emotional leader. The Texans have two weeks to figure out a way to replace him.
From a leadership standpoint, there are three other captains on defense – Williams, Pollard and defensive end Antonio Smith – who can help to fill the void.
Personnel-wise, Zac Diles could move over to middle linebacker from the weakside. Bentley and Sharpton are the Texans' other in-house options.
One of those three likely will be in Ryans' spot when the Texans return to practice on Monday. By that point, the Texans should have several players back from injury as they set their sights on a Nov. 1 showdown with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
The Colts are also on their bye this week, which Texans defenders know means Peyton Manning has two full weeks to dissect them on film. In Week 1, Manning threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort to the Texans.
"We have to understand, as players on this team, we have to step up," Pollard said. "We have to step up. He did so many things against us in the first game, and there were so many things that we did to ourselves to allow some of the big plays. You look at the play at the end of the game (73-yard touchdown pass) where guys were just not in position. We have to fix that.
"There are so many things that we have to fix up on, but that's going to be a lot of fun having him on a Monday night, and we're going to be ready to play."