HOUSTON – Jalen Pitre instinctively finds the football, tracking the direction of a play smoothly and decisively.
Aggressive, fast, and smart, the Texans’ second-round draft pick has manufactured one of the most productive rookie seasons in NFL history.
Pitre intercepted his fifth pass of the season Sunday during a 31-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and recorded 13 tackles. He intercepted Jaguars backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, breaking under the route run by wide receiver Zay Jones in the third quarter.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he has the most tackles among NFL rookies and is the first player to record 125 tackles or more and five interceptions since tackles began being tracked in 2000.
“I’m very proud,” Pitre said. “Thankful God put me in a position to make these plays. The defensive line is doing a great job helping with that. We have one more game left, so I want to continue to help the team as much as I can.
“I feel like I’m improving, but big shoutout to the defensive line. They are doing a great job of getting pressure on the quarterbacks and forcing them to throw it very quickly, and I think that’s fostering into all my picks. I’m very thankful I do have a great defensive line. They’re doing a heck of a job.”
Pitre is the sixth player to have 135 tackles or more and five interceptions since 1991, joining Rashad Jones, Lavonte David, London Fletcher, Donnie Edwards, and Ray Lewis.
“He’s been productive,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “First off, he’s made a lot of tackles, and he has missed a lot of tackles. I’m going to throw that in there. The rookie part of that, I’m anxious to see growth when we’re missing less. You just look at his intellect on football.
“That’s been obvious, too, on how he’s played. He has ball skills. He’s intercepted a lot of balls. There’s just so many good things he’s done, not just him, so many of our rookie players. I’m excited. I know he’s excited about one more opportunity too, and all the guys will be.”
Pitre has improved his tackling lately since moving full-time to free safety but missed a key tackle in the open field on Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr.’s 62-yard touchdown run in the first half.
“It’s still improving,” Pitre said. “We do play in the National Football League and some great players are out there. You’re going to have a couple of misses, but I’m trying to minimize those to the best of my ability. It’s a work in process. It’s never good to be perfect.”
On the touchdown run, both Pitre and cornerback Desmond King had an opportunity to stop or slow down Etienne and didn’t get him on the ground.
“Well, I would say mental mistakes,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s a good running back. He’s been playing good ball, but part of our job is to get him down. In the one play you’re talking about, you have two missed tackles. Normally, that’s going to lead to a big play. Eventually, we’ve got to eliminate that.”
Although the Texans fell to 2-13-1 heading into the season’s final game against the Indianapolis Colts, Pitre said he anticipated a strong effort from the struggling franchise to finish the season.
“We’re fighters,” Pitre said. “We’re going to continue to show up and continue to put our best foot forward. We’re not getting the results we want right now, but I know we’re going to continue to push and put our best foot forward.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com