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Texans pass rush overwhelms Titans

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HOUSTON — Overwhelmed by a swarming Houston Texans pass rush, Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger was repeatedly drilled in the back by outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and hit in the chest by star defensive end J.J. Watt.

During the final play of the game, Mettenberger was left gasping for air when he got the wind knocked out of him by Watt. Mettenberger was under constant siege from a suddenly resurgent defense as he was sacked seven times to tie a franchise record. He was hit 14 times, led by Mercilus’ career-high 3.5 sacks and 2.5 more from Watt during a 20-6 victory.

It was a thorough beating inflicted by a defense humiliated by the Miami Dolphins a week before during a 44-26 blowout road loss in which the Texans allowed 503 yards of total offense and four touchdowns of 50 yards or longer.

“We rushed with vengeance,” veteran nose tackle Vince Wilkfork said. “We didn’t want to be denied. Everything we did, we wanted to do at full speed even if it was wrong. Pride is everything. It’s been an up-and-down season for us.

“When things go wrong, how are you going to get yourself out of the ditch that you dug yourself? We have a bunch of fighters. We never felt sorry for ourselves. You have to have some pride in what you do. We play football for a living.”

The Texans benched starting free safety Rahim Moore, replacing him with strong safety Andre Hal with Quintin Demps starting at strong safety. Moore struggled mightily with his tackling and pursuit angles against Miami.

The Texans surrendered just 211 yards of total offense, an average of 3.6 per play against Tennessee.

“It looked way better,” Hal said. “We played fast and aggressive and everyone ran to the ball. We played with a lot of emotion.”

Busting through the blocks of aggressive Titans tackle Taylor Lewan, Mercilus relentlessly harassed Mettenberger. Starting with rookie Marcus Mariota out with a knee injury, Mercilus thoroughly dominated and flustered Lewan and finished a half-sack shy of tying the franchise record set by former Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

“I could see it in his face,” Mercilus said. “He was getting a little frustrated out there and then they started to try to check me. Just trying to give him a little bit of help.”

With starting outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney forced out of the game with a sore lower back, the Texans’ front seven clicked with him out of the lineup. Signed to a four-year $26 million contract this offseason that included a $5.25 million signing bonus and $10.681 million guaranteed, Mercilus delivered the best performance of his career at the expense of Lewan.

“I definitely played one of my worst games I ever played in my entire life,” Lewan said. “We played like (crap). We’re upset about it. Playing through some injuries, no excuse. I should have overcompensated for that. It bit me in the (butt).”

Mercilus nearly had 4.5 sacks, but his roughing the passer penalty for hitting Mettenberger in the head with an open hand negated another sack.

“It should have been, but the referee took that away from me,” Mercilus said. “I was very cognizant of where my hand placement was and I made sure I moved it as quickly as I could. I mean he got me for one, so it’s all good. I tried to make it up.”

Bothered by a minor back injury during the week, Watt had nine quarterback hits Sunday and tied his own franchise record set last season against the Buffalo Bills. Watt exploited overmatched rookie tackle Jeremiah Poutasi with quick swim moves and a powerful rip move.

Watt sacked Mettenberger in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble recovered by defensive end Jared Crick leading to a 24-yard field goal from kicker Nick Novak for the final score.

“It was a lot more fun, that’s for damn sure,” said Watt, who has 8.5 sacks midway through the season. “I don’t know if relief is the word, but it’s definitely what we expect. This is the type of defense that we expect to be.”

REPORT CARD VS. TITANS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B. Brian Hoyer was accurate and sharp, throwing two touchdown passes with no interceptions. He has 13 touchdown passes this season with three interceptions, two on dropped passes.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: F. The Texans abandoned the running game it was so shaky. They rarely created much in the way of holes or ran with power or elusiveness.

–PASS DEFENSE: A. They intercepted Zach Mettenberger once, sacking him seven times and hitting him 14 times, with 3.5 sacks from Whitney Mercilus and 2.5 sacks from J.J. Watt.

–RUN DEFENSE: B. The Titans didn’t gain much traction running the football. The Texans were stout for the most part.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Kick coverage was solid, for the most part. Punter Shane Lechler had good hang time. The kicking was reliable from Nick Novak.

–COACHING: B. The Texans were intense after such a dreadful performance against the Dolphins. They needed this win and they delivered. They’re now 3-5 midway through the season and tied for first place in the division.


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