CHICAGO – Bulldozed and trampled by the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Texans’ shaky defense displayed shoddy tackling, substandard pursuit angles, and alignment issues.
It was an ugly day for the Texans and their worst-ranked run defense in the NFL during a 23-20 defeat at Soldier Field.
The Texans managed to yield 281 rushing yards on 40 carries with two touchdowns during a career-high performance from Bears backup running back Khalil Herbert. This happened despite Bears starting running back David Montgomery leaving the game with ankle and knee injuries in the first quarter. The Bears averaged 7.0 yards per run.
The 0-2-1 Texans are allowing 202.3 yards on the ground per game after giving up the third-most rushing yards in a single game in franchise history.
“We’ve got to stop the run,” said Texans safety Jonathan Owens, who led the defense with 11 tackles and has recorded an NFL-high 36 tackles for the season. You don’t want somebody just running it down your throat, you know what I mean? We’ve got to tackle better. I’ve got to tackle better. That’s what it comes down to. It sucks. It sucks losing a close one. We’ve got to be better.”
The Texans allowed explosive plays, including a 52-yard run from Herbert as he finished with 157 yards on 20 carries for a 7.9 average per run. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes both missed tackles on a 29-yard scramble from Bears quarterback Justin Fields. There was also a 41-yard run by wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
Afterward, Texans coach Lovie Smith cited poor tackling and a lack of gap integrity as root causes for the breakdowns on defense.
The fact that Owens is having to make so many tackles while playing so deep is a telling and troubling sign.
“Coach (Smith) told us all week you’ve got to come in here and make these guys a one-dimensional team,” Hughes said. “Our secondary played great, but up front we’ve got to do exactly what the coach asks of us, to come in here, plug that run. We know it’s going to be a physical game.
“We’ve just got to be disciplined. We’ve got to understand how our opponent is going to attack us. Technique, we’ve got to use our hands. We’ve got to be in our gaps. In this league, you can’t arm-tackle guys. Running backs are way too strong. They’re way too powerful.”
There were missed tackles at every level of the defense. The perimeter was the weakest point for the Texans, but there was a success up the middle, too.
This marked the third consecutive game the Texans defense struggled to stop the run following previous matchups against Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and Denver Broncos running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
“Is it a surprise we gave up that many yards? Absolutely,” Smith said. “That’s not how we’ve played. The big chunk plays, one over 50, where they had two plays that were almost 100 yards. You can’t do that. We’re not set up that way.
“We don’t play zero coverage. We should have a last line of defense, safety in the middle of the field. So, a lot of things have to happen wrong for them to be able to get some of those plays.’
Whether it was Herbert breaking through the defensive line and running away from middle linebacker Christian Kirksey or the defensive backs failing to bring him down, the run defense is a major problem.
“Run defense, we understood they did have a multitude of great backs and they were going to try to get in big personnel, but I think staying in our gap and being physical is something we need to improve on,” Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre said. “Especially me. There were a couple of times that I didn’t do my job. That kind of hurt the team. I’m kind of upset about that.”
The Bears ran out of necessity as well as choice.
Fields were horrendous, completing just 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions for a 27.7 passer rating.
And the Texans still managed to lose the game.
“We haven’t given up a whole lot of big explosive plays until today, but those runs really did hurt us, starting off with the reverse and starting the second half off, that really hurt us,” Smith said. “Whenever a team is able to rush the ball for that many, it’s just going to be a tough day. I think tackling is some of it, but there’s a discipline that goes along with containing the quarterback when he’s passing.
“There’s a discipline that goes along with maintaining good gap integrity, and we didn’t do that at times. Normally when you see a big play, there is a bust or somebody just not trusting the defense and assuming that they have to do somebody else’s job, too. That’s what was happening a little bit today.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com