In their first game without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, the Texans defense stepped up early in their 33-17 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
“There’s no way that you can replace those guys,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “You’re talking about Defensive Player of the Year, you’re talking about a guy, Whitney Mercilus, who has had a bunch of big plays for us over the last three years. J.J. (Watt), like I said, the best defensive player in football. So, I think it’s a matter of scheme, it’s a matter of moving guys around, it’s really trying to stay ahead of the offense with multiple schemes, multiple things that we do. And I thought Mike (Vrabel) and the staff did a real good job. Give all the credit to the players. They went out there and executed and played very hard.”
Houston held the Browns to just one field goal in the first half and forced three turnovers in the second quarter. In back-to-back drives in the second quarter, Kevin Hogan’s passes were picked off by Johnathan Joseph and then by Dylan Cole. Joseph returned his first interception 82 yards for a touchdown and before recording another pick on the Brown's final drive of the first half.
Houston’s defense also sacked Hogan four times in the win: D.J. Reader, Lamarr Houston, Ufomba Kamalu, and Kurtis Drummond. Both Houston and Drummond were signed to the active roster just last week. Houston, an outside linebacker signed as a free agent, also caused a fumble in the fourth quarter.
“As far as the defense, we know what we have to do week-in and week-out,” Kareem Jackson said. “That’s go out and have great practices throughout the week and be ready to go on Sundays. With two of our main guys out, we know we just have to come together. We see what’s being said, but at the same time we know we are a very capable defense regardless of who is in there. Lamarr (Houston) came in and definitely gave us a boost. He was replaced by J-Jo (Johnathan Joseph) today and a bunch of other guys also played some great ball today as well. It was a total group effort today.”
The Texans held the Browns to 3-of-14 on third down (21%) and 247 yards of offense (134 rushing and 113 passing) in the win. After forcing three takeaways and giving up just one interception, the Texans finished with a plus-two turnover margin. Houston is 13-0 since 2015 when they have a positive turnover differential.