HOUSTON — “Unacceptable,” Houston Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey said as he sat at his locker Sunday night.
Kirksey said it twice, and he was absolutely correct in his assessment of the Texans’ defense.
Derrick Henry fought his way through weak hand-tackle attempts, brutally stiff-armed the Texans’ defense on the ground and ran away from their pursuit with his superior speed despite being literally as big as their defensive ends.
The Tennessee Titans power running back showed why he is known as King Henry and deserves the crown as one of the most dangerous running backs in the game.
His 29-yard touchdown run during a 17-10 win at NRG Stadium was emblematic of how dominant Henry was against the NFL’s worst defense. On that score, one of his two touchdown runs, Henry fended off tackle attempts by defensive end Mario Addison and safety Jonathan Owens before handing back Desmond King a run into the end zone.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL rushing champion rushed for 219 yards on 32 carries, rushing for more than 200 yards against the Texans for the fourth straight game. How priceless is Henry? The Titans, in rookie quarterback Malik Willis’ uneven debut with Ryan Tannehill on the sidelines, only ran the football once in the second half as they piled up 314 rushing yards on 45 carries.
“It was really great to see one of our top guys in the NFL on my team take over the football game,” Willis said. “He was like, ‘They can’t stop me, they can’t stop me.’ It was nice to see because they weren’t stopping him.”
Henry became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 150 yards and two touchdowns in four straight games against the same team. He now has six 200-yard games, tying OJ Simpson and Adrian Peterson for the most in NFL history.
“Oh my God, he’s the one, 6-3, 250 running the ball,” Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce said. “He’s amazing. He shouldn’t be that old to run that fast.”
A week after allowing Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs to rush for 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 road loss, the Texans defense was involved in another ugly and one-sided performance.
Frustration is mounting for the 1-5-1 Texans and their helpless defense, which entered Sunday allowing an NFL-high 164 yards per game.
“It’s unacceptable for us as a defense to give up that many yards,” said Kirksey, the team’s defensive captain and signal caller. “He’s got good vision. It boils down to guys doing their job, staying in their space, making the tackle. We’ve got to clear some things up. There’s really nothing you can say about that. It’s unacceptable. We’ve got to keep fighting. , to clean up the mistakes and start playing better football”.
It defies logic to think the Texans will suddenly become a better defensive tackle. It hasn’t happened yet in seven games.
What could change the situation?
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“Hey, just attitude, will, will,” Kirksey said. “We’ve got to find a way. He’s a good fullback. I thought we had opportunities to play the ball. We just didn’t get it. We’ve got to go back to the drawer.”
The Texans lost the battle in the trenches on the battle line.
“When you dominate on both sides of the football, I’m talking about, up front, it’s going to be a tough day,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “It was bad football today that we played and you end up with a game like that. You look at the score and say, “Hey, you had a chance to win.” He was never really into it. Defensively we haven’t been able to really stop the run all year and today it definitely showed.”
The Titans won their fifth straight game. Henry rumbled for a season-high 41 yards on his second drive of the game. This marked his fourth straight 100-yard game.
“That’s what we expect from him,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “He puts so much into himself. Derrick expects more of himself than anyone on this football team or any coaching staff would. I’m glad we have him.”
Henry now has 75 career touchdowns, 72 on the ground and three receivers to pass Eddie George for the most touchdowns in franchise history.
Henry said he got tired after carrying the football so much and his offensive line gave up. He now has 892 yards and nine touchdowns in his last four games with the Texans after missing both games against them last season with a broken foot.
“They were the ones who made it happen,” he said. “I hope they’re proud of it. I think this is our identity and culture. The coach preaches physicality, effort and finish, details, fundamentals and we’re all proud of that.”
The common denominator for the Texans hasn’t changed.
“The tackles were missed,” said Owens, who was benched and replaced by Eric Murray in the second half. “That’s been the big thing for us, we’ve got to minimize the explosive run. We’ve all got to get better. I’ve got to get better because we’re doing really well. We’ve got to keep working.”
Henry rushed for a career-high 250 yards against the Texans during his 2,000-yard rushing season in 2020.
The Texans were without defensive tackle Malik Collins, the engine of their three-point penetrating defense, due to a chest injury. And it marked the first game since linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill was cut at his own request. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris had 7 tackles, but missed several tackles and took the wrong angle on other plays.
“We’re a little short-handed right now and we’re going to try to do a better job,” Smith said. “We knew who we were playing. One of the best backs in the game. That physical brand of football, we weren’t ready to play that today.”
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