Six games into the season, the Texans defense is in an interesting spot: basically where it was at this point in 2016.
When the regular season concluded last year, Houston had the NFL's top-ranked defense when it came to yards allowed per game. It was the clear-cut strength of the team, and helped propel the Texans to a division title and into the second round of the NFL playoffs.
But last year at this time, the defense was still finding itself, so to speak.
While it wasn't at the top of the heap in many categories, it was still holding it's own despite seeing just a handful of games from 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The table below shows the Texans defense in a few key categories through the first six games of this year and last.
|Yards/game (NFL rank)||315.7 (7)||310.5 (7)|
|Points allowed/game (NFL rank)||21.2 (T12)||24.5 (24)|
|3rd Down % (NFL rank)||35.7 (9)||34.6 (6)|
While those stats are nice, they're just stats. The Texans want to get better in the most important stat of all, which is team record.
"We're three-and-three," defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel said. "I think we've had some good moments, I think we've had some OK moments and I think we've had some bad moments. That's all of us included, through the coaching staff and the players, and we just have to have more good moments and less bad moments."
In year one as coordinator, Vrabel's engineering a near carbon-copy of what the Texans have done on that side of the ball last year and the two years prior under previous coordinator Romeo Crennel. Since 2014, the Texans defense has gotten better as the year progressed. Crennel, who's now an assistant head coach, praised Vrabel's early work on the job.
"He's smart, he's organized and he gets them to play and they're doing a good job," Crennel said. "They're seventh in defense in the NFL and able to get it done without some key guys, too. So, that's a positive. So, now we just have to keep going and continue to build on what we got started."
As far as playing without Watt, as well as outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Texans know they can't snap their fingers and replace that duo. But cornerback Johnathan Joseph said he and his teammates aren't willing to allow for a dip in production.
"Just because the message is always spread across the locker room and any time you're on the practice field when guys rotate and shuffle in and out, we don't expect the level of play to drop off any at all, so they already have that mindset going in (that) they have to keep up with the rest of the guys in there," Joseph said.
The Texans are off this Sunday, and will travel to Seattle for a Week 8 matchup with the Seahawks on October 29.