Heading into Week 17, the Texans defense remains No. 1 in the NFL, allowing a league-low 305.7 yards per game and giving up the fewest first downs with just 17.1 per game.
"It's an attitude, something that we'll carry into every game and uphold," linebacker Brian Cushing said Wednesday. "Something that we do not want to give away so it means a lot to us."
It hasn't been easy, but players stepped up in the face of adversity and injuries this season. Jadeveon Clowney moved to defensive end and has had a Pro Bowl campaign. A.J. Bouye became one of the top-ranked cornerbacks in the league. Antonio Smith came out of semi-retirement to return to the Texans and contribute to the defensive front.
When starters have been out with injuries, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has put the remaining pieces together seamlessly. Houston has used 14 different starting lineup combinations this year, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. The Texans have operated with 20 different starters on defense, tied for the fourth-most in franchise history and the most since starting 21 players in 2008.
"We have good leadership," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think Brian Cushing has done an excellent job of leading that defense. He's the heart and soul, right in the middle, then you have Vince (Wilfork) up front. The addition of Antonio Smith, especially from a leadership standpoint, has really helped. (Whitney) Mercilus, (Benardrick) McKinney, Johnathan Joseph. A.J. Bouye has had a great year, Quintin Demps and then the coaching staff is really strong."
The Texans have accomplished all of it without their best player for most of the season. After losing the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year after Week 3, Houston's defense had to adjust to life after J.J. Watt.
"J.J. is a top, top player, one of the best of all time," O'Brien said. "Obviously, you can't say enough about him and his ability, his leadership and all those things, but we have a lot of good players and we have a good coaching staff."
Kevin Johnson, who started three consecutive games and was off to a promising sophomore season, also landed on injured reserve just one month later. Starters such as Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Mercilus, Cushing, Demps and Wilfork are also among those that have missed games with injuries this season.
"This group has been special in its own way," Cushing said. "We've missed some key guys and guys have missed time here and there, but we've been able to battle back and get over it and just persevere. I think it's an immensely tough group and we've gotten through a lot and played with each other and done a good job."
The Texans, who have locked up the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoff picture, will travel to Tennessee to play the Titans on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. CT on CBS and SportsRadio 610.
Check out the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for Sunday's game against the Titans.