NFL Wire News

Texans continue to tweak o-line as Blue breaks out


The Sports Xchange

HOUSTON — Instead of being stonewalled again at the line of scrimmage, the Texans’ resurgent running game punished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense badly enough Sunday afternoon that they became visibly frustrated, embarrassed and tired.

As Texans running back Alfred Blue ran roughshod over the Buccaneers behind a makeshift offensive line, Tampa Bay ran out of gas by the fourth quarter as the Bucs were physically worn down during a 19-9 loss at NRG Stadium.

“Yeah, definitely towards the end when we were just pounding, you could tell they were just getting tired,” said fullback Jay Prosch, Blue’s lead blocker who rushed for a career-high 24 yards on three carries. “We kind of took their will from them and just kept going.”

The Texans piled up a season-high 186 yards on 46 carries as Blue gained 139 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 20-yard touchdown run. It was one week removed from the Texans being limited to just 63 rushing yards on 21 carries in a loss to the Carolina Panthers.

“I think everyone came out with a chip on their shoulders,” said Blue, who had just six yards on five carries a week ago against Carolina. “The offensive line, they were blocking real good. I just got in the groove, got comfortable in the run game and started gashing. It was working for us, the coaches kept calling it and we just kept gashing them.”

Blue was particularly effective running toward the left side, displaying vision and power as left offensive tackle Chris Clark and new starting left offensive guard Oday Aboushi imposed their will on the Buccaneers’ athletic front seven.

Blue busted off left tackle for a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that represents the longest scoring run of his career. This marked the second-most productive game of Blue’s career after he rushed for 156 yards on a franchise-record 36 carries last November against the Cleveland Browns.

“As a runner I just got in the zone of running the ball,” Blue said. “The coaches, they trusted me. As a runner you get in that mode, you start to see it and the game slows down. I was able to see blocks more effective and just make that one cut and get upfield.”

Blue’s sight lines were upgraded significantly by how his blockers improved their play this week.

The 6-2, 223-pound former LSU standout was able to find plenty of holes to roam through despite the loss of another starting offensive lineman when right guard Brandon Brooks sprained his left ankle and was replaced by right tackle Derek Newton shifting over to right guard and undrafted rookie Kendall Lamm stepping in for Newton at right tackle.

Aboushi started for the first time for the Texans after being claimed off waivers two weeks ago against the New York Jets.

“That’s the league, that’s a part of business,” Aboushi said. “Guys get hurt, guys go down, and you have to be the next man up. Lamm did a great job of being prepared and coming in, and Derek Newton did a great job of moving inside. You just have to be ready.”

— Standing at his locker late Sunday afternoon following a 19-9 win, Texans veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork’s mood was transformed from how he felt a week ago when he was visibly frustrated following a loss to the Carolina Panthers.

No longer winless, the 1-2 Texans got their first victory of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which the five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman and two-time Super Bowl victor recorded two tackles.

“It’s a good team win, it feels good to win a ballgame,” Wilfork said. “It’s a step in the right direction now, so hopefully when we go back to work this week we come out with a good week of practice like we did this past week. It showed tonight how well we play once we play together as a team.”

The Texans held the Buccaneers to 1 of 12 efficiency on third downs, just 57 rushing yards, 14 first downs and intercepted rookie quarterback Jameis Winston once.

“I think we stepped up, everyone stepped up,” Wilfork said. “We started fast then finished that. That’s one of the things we always preach, being able to start the game and finishing it. I think we did that tonight but a lot of work still needs to be done. It’s a great win and it feels good to win. Like I said, we have to go to the practice field and come out here on game day and show it.”

In particular, the third-down defense was sharp.

“Our third-down defense has played pretty well this year, so we just have to continue building on it,” Wilfork said. “I think we need to do a better job of creating more turnovers for the offense. But we will hit the ground running this week, we’ll watch film, make some corrections. It wasn’t perfect but we got the W. It feels good to get that one and move forward now.”

— Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins made a healthy and successful return Sunday from a concussion suffered last week against the Carolina Panthers.

In a 19-9 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Hopkins caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown as he was targeted 14 times. Hopkins passed the mandatory baseline neurological exam and was listed as probable on the injury report as he returned to practice Friday.

Hopkins grabbed his head at one point after landing on his helmet in the first half, but it was out of frustration that he didn’t make a sideline catch.

“I felt good,” Hopkins said. “We got the win. That’s all that matters. It feels great.”

Hopkins said it was the second concussion of his career in the NFL. The former first-round draft pick sustained one in college at Clemson.

“It was a concussion,” Hopkins said. “A normal concussion.”

Hopkins caught a touchdown on a slant pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett.

“That was just Mallett making a play, giving me a signal to be able to make a play and that’s on him,” Hopkins said.

In the fourth quarter, Mallett connected with Hopkins on a 30-yard pass that led to a touchdown run by Alfred Blue.

“This is why we practice,” Hopkins said. “We do a lot of stuff outside of just the practice field, working after practice on that timing and seeing things that the defense is going to do to make last-minute adjustments.”

–Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus regained his starting job Sunday, one week after being replaced in the lineup by John Simon opposite Jadeveon Clowney.

Mercilus started ahead of Simon and had two tackles, one for a loss. Signed to a four-year, $26 million contract in the offseason that included $10.681 million guaranteed with a $5.25 million signing bonus, Mercilus says he’s determined to make the most of his opportunities.

“It felt good,” Mercilus said. “I was into the flow of the game. That helped out a lot, just understanding what they were doing.”

Mercilus also had a key fumble recovery on special teams.

“That could have been a huge momentum-changer,” Mercilus said. “I was just glad I was there. Every play can be big.”

Meanwhile, rookie inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney, a second-round draft pick from Mississippi State and a former consensus All-American and All-Southeastern Conference selection, entered the starting lineup for the first time. McKinney replaced Akeem Dent as the starting inside linebacker next to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and had two tackles.

“I’m just trying to help the team out, do what I’m supposed to do,” McKinney said. “The more experience you get, I was telling Cush during the game, it helps me out throughout the whole game. He helped me out to stay on the same page and [linebackers coach Mike] Vrabel. This was definitely a confidence-booster. I’m hoping to get better every week.”

— Although Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt’s streak of consecutive games with at least one sack was halted at seven games, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was pleased with the defensive performance overall during a 19-9 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Watt recorded five tackles, one for a loss, and had three quarterback hits on rookie quarterback Jameis Winston at NRG Stadium.

“We’re working to find out brand and get back to playing our brand of football,” Watt said. “I still wouldn’t say we’re 100 percent there yet, but I think (Sunday) was a great step in the right direction towards where we want to be.

“I think we did a great job of going out there and stopping the run, getting off the field on third down, give our offense the ball back, so we’re definitely getting there. Now, you’ve just got to get on a roll. You’ve got to use the momentum.”

— Standing outside of a victorious locker room, Texans owner Bob McNair was in a good mood after his team defeated the Buccaneers.

The 19-9 win at NRG Stadium represents the Texans’ first win of the season.

“It started coming together,” McNair said. “I’m real pleased for them.”

— Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney emerged relatively unscathed during his second consecutive start after undergoing microfracture knee surgery in December.

Clowney had a quiet game with two tackles and one quarterback hit and is still hunting for his first NFL sack.

The former top overall pick didn’t aggravate his knee, though.

“I’m doing alright, I’m doing good,” Clowney said. “Some nicks and bruises, but that’s going to happen.”

Clowney displayed flashes of his old pass-rushing form from his South Carolina days, but not enough to satisfy him.

“You want to make those plays, though,” Clowney said. “You don’t want to just make pressure, you want to make the play. So, I always pride myself on making the play. So, I went to the sideline mad. My teammates are telling me, ‘Good job,’ and I’m like, ‘I have to make those plays,’ but that’s football.”

— Texans Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown was upbeat about his chances of returning for next Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Brown has missed the past two games, including Sunday’s 19-9 win over the Buccaneers, with a broken right thumb that he aggravated in the season-opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’m optimistic about it,” Brown said. “That’s the plan for me to be back as soon as possible.”

— Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston was upset about a late, low hit from Simon.

Simon was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the third quarter of the Texans’ 19-9 win Sunday over the Buccaneers at NRG Stadium.

“That was cheap, but it’s the game of football,” said Winston, the top overall pick from Florida State. “That guy is going full-speed. He’s trying to make his play as well. I forgive him for that. Logan Mankins had my back, so I let him handle it.”

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