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3 things we learned about the Texans

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HOUSTON — Having failed to meet lofty preseason expectations as a defensive unit and specifically with the pass rush, the Houston Texans found Sunday a tonic in the form of the Tennessee Titans’ porous offensive line.

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus combined for six sacks of Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Houston proved relentless in dominating the Titans 20-6 at NRG Stadium.

Mercilus finished with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks, four tackles for loss and four quarterback hits filling in for Jadeveon Clowney (back). Watt added 2 1/2 sacks plus a career-high-tying nine hits on Mettenberger.

The Texans (3-5) limited the Titans (1-6) to 211 total yards, with Mettenberger passing for 171 yards while being sacked seven times.

“It’s my job to take advantage when I get them (one-on-one matchups) because I don’t get them very often,” Watt said. “That’s the type of defense we expect to have every week.”

The Texans weren’t exactly explosive offensively, mustering two short Nick Novak field goals after Titans turnovers yielded prime field position. But quarterback Brian Hoyer delivered two scoring passes, including a 21-yard strike to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the third snap of the second quarter and a 42-yarder to receiver Nate Washington for a 17-6 lead with 3:38 left in the third.

Hoyer finished with 235 passing yards while completing 23 of 35 attempts. Sunday marked the first game without backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who was released Tuesday, and running back Arian Foster, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last week at Miami.

“Whatever it took today,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “We had to get the win. It wasn’t pretty, but who cares?

“We won the game. We came up with enough points. The defense played well. We did what we had to do.”

What we learned about the Texans:

1. The Texans continue to struggle running the ball, no surprise following the season-ending loss of Arian Foster. The tailback combination of Alfred Blue and Chris Polk combined for just 57 yards on 22 attempts while Blue, Polk and Jonathan Grimes totaled 49 receiving yards on eight receptions. The Texans have been skewed to the pass this season, and their lack of balance has negatively impacted their offense. “Look, running the ball wasn’t easy today,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Obviously it wasn’t very good but we won the game.”

2. With or without Ryan Mallett looking over his shoulder, quarterback Brian Hoyer continues to perform admirably. Hoyer recorded his fifth consecutive game with at least two touchdown passes, a franchise record, and notched his fourth game with a passer rating (103.9) better than 100. Hoyer completed 11 consecutive passes bridging the second and third quarters. “I don’t really look at it like that because it’s a results league,” Hoyer said of no longer looking over his shoulder. “If we go lose, there’s always someone that’s there to take your job.”

3. The Texans should figure out a means to effectively use J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus simultaneously. Mercilus recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks filling in for Clowney, who was in and out with a back injury before finally sitting out the second half. Watt added 2.5 sacks working with Mercilus but there should be a scheme capable of incorporating all three. “It is unfortunate that JD got hurt but the coaches always say next man up,” Mercilus said. “I just went out there and did what the game plan required me to do.”

Etc.:

–WR DeAndre Hopkins led the team with eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. He passed Andre Johnson (2,806) for the most receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons in franchise history and tied RB Arian Foster (14) for the fifth-most career receiving touchdowns in franchise history.

–LB Whitney Mercilus posted a career-high 3.5 sacks, which is tied for the second most in a game in Texans history (Connor Barwin, four at Jacksonville on Nov. 27, 2011). Mercilus tied for second on the team with seven tackles (six solo) while adding four TFLs and four quarterback hits.

–DE J.J. Watt passed DeMarcus Ware (64.5) for the third-most sacks in a player’s first five seasons and is one sack shy of passing Derrick Thomas (66) for second most. He tied his single-game high with nine quarterback hits (vs. Buffalo, Sept. 28, 2014) and, through eight games, has more tackles (40), sacks (8.5), quarterback hits (25) and TFLs (15) than he did at this point last season when he was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.


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