Texans can’t run ball, can’t stop run and need quick answers

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans can’t run the ball — even with offseason acquisition David Johnson — and they can’t stop the run.

Among the many reasons Houston is 0-4, those are the two problems players and coaches say need to be addressed immediately.

And if the Texans can’t find any solutions, the main issue surrounding the team could well be coach Bill O’Brien’s job security. O’Brien was asked Monday whether he’s worried about being fired.

“All I can control is what I what I can control, and I’ve got to do a better job with the team,” he said. “That’s obvious and we’re gonna work hard to do that.”

Houston rode the arm and playmaking ability of Deshaun Watson to NFC South titles the past two seasons. The run defense wasn’t exactly a strength, but it didn’t hinder the Texans’ path to the playoffs.

Last year, the Texans allowed 121 yards per game on the ground — 25th in the league. This year they’re giving up nearly 182 yards, worst in the NFL.

The unit hasn’t changed much from a year ago. The one big loss was nose tackle D.J. Reader, who signed with the Bengals after starting 30 of 32 games over the last two seasons. Former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is now assistant head coach and Anthony Weaver was promoted to defensive coordinator after serving as the defensive line coach. But he didn’t make any changes to the scheme that would account for such a dramatic downturn.

Star defensive end J.J. Watt seemed stunned on Sunday after the Texans lost at home to Minnesota, falling to 0-4 for the first time since 2008. He bristled when a reporter mentioned that the Texans gave up 162 yards rushing and read off all the long drives the Vikings put together.

“It’s not good. Not going to win you many football games with numbers like that,” he said. “We have to fix it. We’re 0-4. What we are doing is not working. It needs to be fixed.”

But as for how to do that, Watt had no answers.

“If I had them, I would do it,” he said. “I’m not saying that your question is a bad one, I’m just saying if I knew the answer, I would implement that answer.”

As for the offense, Houston’s rushing attack is also in the NFL cellar, averaging 73.5 yards per game. That contributed to a poor showing in the red zone against the previously winless Vikings. Houston failed to score a touchdown in three trips inside Minnesota’s 20.

“We’ve just got to beat the guy across from us and find a way to get it in the end zone,” receiver Will Fuller said. “I don’t know the statistics, but I know we were kicking field goals (Sunday), and that’s not going to get you a win.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Watson and Houston’s passing game had their best performance of the season on Sunday. Watson threw for a season-high 300 yards and two touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception after being picked off once in each of the first three games.

He was able to complete several deep throws on Sunday after the Texans struggled to get chunk plays in their first three losses. The Texans had four receptions of more than 23 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard catch by Fuller.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Hard work and discipline are required to solve Houston’s problems against the run, Watt said.

“It’s a matter of playing our gaps, every single gap all the way across the line, setting the edges and building a wall, and (Sunday) we didn’t do that,” he said. “I didn’t do that at times, other guys didn’t do it at times. That’s what happened. It’s a matter of all 11 of us doing our job on every single play.”

STOCK UP

Fuller had 108 yards receiving and a touchdown on Sunday. It’s the second 100-yard receiving game this year for Fuller, who had 112 yards in the opener but managed just 54 yards combined in his previous two games.

STOCK DOWN

Johnson continues to struggle after coming to Houston in the offseason trade that sent star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. Johnson had 63 yards rushing on Sunday. He had a chance to score from the 1-yard line on Houston’s last drive but was stuffed for no gain.

O’Brien said the problems weren’t limited to Johnson.

“That’s something we’ve got to spend a lot of time on,” O’Brien said. “I think everybody’s involved in that — coaching and playing.”

INJURED

Tight end Jordan Akins sustained a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Harrison Smith on Sunday that got Smith ejected from the game.

KEY NUMBER

0 — The Texans are the only team in the league that hasn’t forced a turnover this season.

NEXT STEPS

Houston begins division play on Sunday when it hosts the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3) and a defense that’s allowed nearly 400 yards and more than 29 points per game.

O’Brien is confident that his players have the right mindset to salvage the season.

“Where we are is not good, obviously, but I do think that we have good leadership on this team,” O’Brien said. “And we have guys that work hard and they believe in each other. And I think they feel like we’re close and we just need to get a win. But … I’m not worried about the morale.”

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