Time to break the defensive cycle

Updated: October 14, 2003, 1:46 PM ET
ESPN

HOUSTON -- Sometimes consistency isn't such a good thing.

The points-allowed column after five Houston Texans games is frighteningly consistent: 20, 31, 42, 20, 38. When 20 points is the low-water mark for opponent scoring, there's a problem.

After five games in the Texans' inaugural season, they had one fewer win and a defense winning praise for keeping Houston competitive while the rookie-laden offense stumbled and bumbled and quarterback David Carr ran for his life.

Now the offense is more potent and Carr's sack totals are in line with those of his peers. The focus has shifted to the other side of the ball, where defenders appeared befuddled and a step slow throughout the 38-17 loss in Nashville on Sunday.

Steve McNair enjoyed immaculate protection and consistently -- there's that word again -- found wide-open targets. In the end both McNair, with 421 yards passing and Derrick Mason, who had 177 yards receiving and caught all three of McNair's touchdown throws, tortured a defense that frustrated Tennessee last year.

While they held a declining Eddie George to 60 yards and just 3.2 yards per carry, the Texans managed just one sack and allowed 11 pass plays of more than 20 yards. Titans receivers were consistently open, they consistently broke tackles and they consistently kept running after the catch.

Of course, defenders can't be expected to make plays when they're not in position to do so, and some complained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't adjust to Tennessee's attack. But as one observer noted Monday, Fangio didn't get juked on double moves, he didn't miss any tackles and he didn't get stopped on seemingly every pass rush.

The personnel is almost the same as last year, although injuries are mounting this go-round. Nose guard Seth Payne had a season-ending knee tear in Week 2, defensive end Gary Walker didn't get going until the fourth week with a sore shoulder and cornerback Aaron Glenn went out early with a groin injury in Houston's 24-20 victory against Jacksonville on Sept. 28 and might stay on the shelf for a few weeks.

The physical travails, plus the free agency loss of sack-happy right outside linebacker Jeff Posey to Buffalo in the offseason, have taken their toll. A defense that ranked statistically in the middle of the pack last year despite spending more time on the field than virtually any other unit now is near the bottom of most categories despite logging among the fewest plays.

Only woeful Jacksonville has allowed more than the 16 offensive touchdowns Houston has yielded, and the Jaguars have played one more game. Most telling is the 6.4 yards per play against the Texans, worst in the league.

The 379.2 yards per game the Texans are giving up is good for third-most in the league. The only teams faring worse -- San Diego and Atlanta -- have one victory between them.

And all those stats don't count the three interception returns for touchdowns and Dante Hall's score on a punt return. Only Arizona has equaled the Texans' total of 20 touchdowns allowed, and they too have played six games instead of Houston's five.

There won't be any easy answers or quick fixes. The paper-thin depth at every position means there isn't much room for personnel changes other than quarterback-seeking missile Antwan Peek getting more time at outside linebacker. And further injuries could cause additional mismatches as the next 11 games play out.

The best remedy for the Texans' defensive woes is to play some lightweights. The Jets fit that bill this Sunday, then an impending train wreck looms at Indianapolis next week, followed by another winnable game at Cincinnati. Houston easily could be 4-4 by mid-November before a difficult second half begins.

By then, the Texans' defense had better stop being so relentlessly consistent.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index