Linebackers DeMeco Ryans (59) and Brian Cushing (56) spearheaded a Texans defense that allowed just 46 rushing yards by the Bengals.
CINCINNATI -In the two games prior to Sunday's contest in Cincinnati, the Texans kept the opposing team's featured ball-carrier from gaining more than 100 yards. But the Bengals' Cedric Benson entered Week 6 atop the NFL in rushing yardage and presented a much more formidable challenge than the Raiders' Darren McFadden and the Cardinals' Tim Hightower.
The Texans' defense answered that challenge.
Benson, the former Texas Longhorn, was limited to just 44 yards on 16 carries, an average of less than three yards per. It was just one component of an impressive defensive effort that saw the Texans blank Cincinnati in three of four quarters, including a shutout after halftime.
"They're just getting better," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "They've been playing together; I think that's the key."
That togetherness under first-year coordinator Frank Bush has been aided by the return a key member of the secondary, an addition at safety and some position changes up front.
"Jacques (Reeves) coming back healthy has allowed us to settle down on the back end," Kubiak said. "Bernard Pollard has been a great addition. We went very athletic with our front in the last two weeks, with smaller guys, moving them around, moving Antonio (Smith) inside, moving Tim Bulman inside, and they have responded.
"I just think they're growing up together, and they should continue to get better."
Cincinnati managed just 46 total rushing yards, nullifying that aspect of what had been an excellent offense. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans said he and his teammates swung the momentum in their favor for good early in the second half.
"We got the first turnover (a fumble forced by Brian Cushing) and stopped their running game in the second half by not letting Cedric get to the edge on us," he said. "I felt like we had that consistency in the game where we never allowed them to break the big play. We were holding them and getting off the field on third down."
Time and again Benson, was stuffed at the line of scrimmage with no room to run.
"The scheme that we were running put everyone in specific gaps," Bush said. "Everyone did their job by defeating the man in front of them and keeping their running game in check. Guys like Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans played off of the defensive linemen and made plays for us."
In his sixth game as a professional football player, Cushing was awarded a game ball by Kubiak for his stellar play. The rookie out of USC finished with nine tackles, a pair of forced fumbles and a late interception in Texans territory that iced it for Houston.
"It's interesting to me," Kubiak said of Cushing. "He seems to make his biggest plays in the toughest times of the game. He's just a very tough competitor. You can tell he's played in big games."
The interception and the forced fumbles came in the second half, and when Cushing picked off Carson Palmer with 1:48 remaining in the game, the victory was sealed.
"I knew they like throwing the deep-over route," Cushing said of the interception. "They had been throwing a lot of checkdowns. They needed a big play. I was able to cheat, read Carson's eyes."
Ryans finished with a team-high 12 tackles and was pleased with his squad's performance, but he thinks the best is yet to come.
"I feel like we are being a lot more consistent on defense," he said. "That's the key for us. We've had spurts of being good. We're putting together 60 minutes now. We still have a lot of stuff to clean up, so we can be even better."
In 13 possessions, the Bengals were promptly sent back to the sidelines five times with three-and-outs. That wrecked any chance at Cincinnati establishing a rhythm offensively.
The Texans' early-season breakdowns on defense have been fewer and farther between, much to Bush's liking.
"I do feel more comfortable when I have to make a call than I may have earlier in the season," Bush said. "I don't feel handcuffed that a guy is not going to do his responsibility. I feel really good about where we are going as a defense. Those kids give me a lot of confidence when I have to make a call."
Another bright spot defensively came when rookie defensive end Connor Barwin sacked Palmer in the second half. It was the first-career sack for the former Cincinnati Bearcat, and it came on third-and-four with the Bengals pinned back in their own territory.
Barwin had more than 50 family members and friends at the game.
"It felt great," the second-round draft pick said. "Cincinnati is a special place for me. It's weird that it happened here. It's a blessing that it did. More importantly, it felt good for me to make a play for my teammates and to help our team win."
The Texans will look to sustain their high level of defensive play when the 49ers, coming off a Week 6 bye, come to Houston next Sunday.