The Texans insist that nothing has changed, that the confidence borne of the defensive might flexed against the Steelers in Week 4 remains intact.
That they've dropped consecutive games since pounding the Steelers, surrendering on average 27 points against the Raiders and Ravens, hasn't depleted their self-assurance. That outside linebacker Mario Williams, their defensive linchpin, is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle doesn't make the Texans any less certain in their ability.
The mere suggestion of such tends to rankle certain individuals.
"We played with confidence against Oakland. We played with confidence against Baltimore. Those are some tough games," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We had a chance to beat Oakland on the last play of the game and last week, we were in a 14-13 football game (midway through the third quarter). There is no lack of confidence. OK?
"We just have to make a few more plays than we're making. This team is very confident. They work very confident and I expect big things out of them. This is (game) number seven, a chance to go do it again this week."
There are two ways to view the Texans' present defensive state of mind in advance of their critical AFC South showdown with the Titans (3-2) in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday. At face value, the statistics support their standing as a plus defense, with the Texans (3-3) ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in yards allowed (10th at 328.7 per game) and points allowed (ninth at 20.7). They are no worse than 14th in yards per play allowed (5.48), rushing yards allowed per game (107.0), passing yards allowed per game (221.7) and third-down conversion percentage (33.3 percent).
But with their offense limited by the absences of Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and versatile fullback James Casey (pectoral), the defense hasn't dominated enough to prevent fourth-quarter collapses. Perhaps it is unfair to suggest that their defense should perform exceptionally to supplement their offense, but that's where the Texans stand until the full complement of weaponry returns.
No one would sniff at the ratio of field goals (nine) to touchdowns (four) allowed by the Texans over the past two weeks, but of the 54 total points allowed to the Raiders and Ravens, 23 came in the fourth quarter.
"How do you finish games better? Find a way to sustain the energy that we sustained with Pittsburgh," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "I think when a game is on the line and it's close like that, you got to find a little extra something to pull it out. At the same time of doing that is when you have to be at your sharpest. You can't make mistakes. You can't get MAs (missed assignments) in those times. It was a few MAs.
"I think when it gets haywire and things started coming so fast, but you still got to line up and go, you kind of get a little too caught up and those are the wrong times to do it. It's the wrong time to make mistakes. It's the wrong time to get tired. At the end of the game is when you have to find that little extra oomph and still have the focus to pull it out."
Considering where the unit was last season, the strides the Texans have made defensively validates beliefs that minor issues can be corrected. When the Texans lacked a sufficient pass rush, suitable secondary talent, and a healthy corps of linebackers, panic was a natural reflex.
Excluding Williams, the Texans are miles ahead of where they were. A return to their impressive ways against the Steelers won't require an injection of something they have yet to lose despite recent struggles.
"We're confident because we're confident in what we're going," Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Defensively guys are buying in to what we're doing, but out of the same breath we know that we can still play better. We expect ourselves to play better.
"I feel like we're coming around, and we're really gelling together to where we can shut some people out. That's our goal: it's to pitch shutouts. Our confidence is there, our confidence is high going into this week."
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