DeMeco Ryans on Texans’ ugly defensive breakdowns in loss to Colts: ‘We weren’t good enough’

Texans allowed four red zone touchdowns in four defensive opportunities, 25 of 33 passing rate, 126 rushing yards, three touchdown runs and six third-down conversions out of first eight situations.

Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans on the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Houston, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) (Eric Christian Smith, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – Inside the Texans’ locker room, veteran defensive tackle Maliek Collins took an introspective approach to an ugly performance from the defense.

One week after containing Baltimore Ravens former NFL Most Valuable Player quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Texans’ defense had no answers for the Indianapolis Colts’ passing game and running game.

The Colts scored four red zone touchdowns and converted 6 of their first 8 third-down situations. Whether it was dual-threat rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson dashing away from pursuit for a pair of early touchdown runs before leaving the game with a concussion, precision passing from backup Gardner Minshew or running back Zack Moss gashing the Texans between the tackles, the Texans had no answers for a well-designed game plan from Colts coach Shane Steichen.

It was a substandard performance, a frustrating step backward from the defense that deeply disappointed players and coach DeMeco Ryans.

“I’m only going to speak from my perspective,” Collins said. “I’m going to go home, watch the tape, look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Did I give my team the best fighting chance? Did I give myself a fighting chance? What could I have done differently? How could I execute better?’”

Although the Colts had just 353 yards of total offense, they converted 6 of 12 third downs and their pass protection was stellar. The Texans generated zero sacks. Their only quarterback hit came from rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr., and that was on the first play of the game.

Minshew was allowed to operate unbothered in the pocket, completing 19 of 33 passes for 171 yards. Moss, in his first game back from a broken wrist, rushed for 88 yards on 18 carries as the Colts averaged 5.5 yards per run. Eight different players caught at least one pass for the Colts. And they averaged 6.3 yards per offensive play.

“Defensively, we weren’t good enough,” Ryans said. “If we want to be a good defense, it all starts up front. We did not stop the run. We did not tackle well. Fundamental football wasn’t good enough. If you want to win games in this league, we’ve got to play better. Third down situational football, red zone, again, wasn’t good enough.

“We gave them four in the red zone, and they scored on all four [opportunities]. For us, we have to eliminate teams scoring in the red zone. We have to own it and make them kick field goals. We didn’t do that today.”

As the architect of the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense last season, Ryans is accustomed to defensive excellence like the kind of gold standard he experienced with defensive end Nick Bosa and middle linebacker Fred Warner. This isn’t the 49ers, though. The rebuilding Texans still obviously have more work to do to reach those heights and what Ryans, a former Texans Pro Bowl middle linebacker, expects from them. There’s a lot of work to be done.

“Yeah, we could have definitely did more as far as effort, tackling,” cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. said. “Just small stuff playing football. We just go back to the basics.”

The 0-2 Texans were playing without starting safeties Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward due to a bruised lung and a hip injury, respectively. They lost safety Eric Murray to a concussion. There’s a real possibility they have to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars and quarterback Trevor Lawrence in one week without Pitre, Ward and Murray and go with M.J. Stewart and DeAndre Houston-Carson at safety and, possibly, Grayland Arnold at nickel.

The message from Ryans to the players is succinct: Start faster and begin the game with more energy.

“What I say to our guys after this is: ‘We can’t wait till the second half,’” Ryans said. “Like I did see improvement from Game One to Game Two from our offense, but our defense took a step back. And we can’t have the back and forth. We have to be consistent.

“Be consistent and don’t have self-inflicted wounds that you’re too far behind and have to catch up. We can’t play catch-up ball. We have to be in it the entire game. I definitely appreciate what they did in the second half, to have that grit to fight back to give us an opportunity there, and we came up a little short. So always encouraged and pleased by that, but we’ve got to start faster.

The Texans fell behind 28-10 at halftime, and the game was largely decided before intermission. By halftime, the Colts had already rushed for 90 yards and three touchdowns and Minshew had completed 11 of 13 passes with one touchdown.

“I thought we came out kind of flat,” Texans cornerback Steven Nelson said. “Our offense came out rolling. We’ve got to compensate each other a little better. We ended up picking it up in the second half. As you know in this league, it can be a little bit too late.”

That was the case for the Texans one week after Nelson intercepted Jackson once and Thomas forced him to fumble.

A series of short throws from the Colts got the job done. Their longest completion was a 43-yard throw from Minshew to tight end Will Mallory.

A series of short throws from the Colts got the job done. Their longest completion was a 43-yard throw from Minshew to tight end Will Mallory.

The quarterback switch didn’t impact the game that much beyond a change of styles from Richardson, a run-first type, to Minshew, who prefers to operate primarily from the pocket.

“It didn’t affect our game plan much,” Ryans said. “We know how they like to call the game. Short passes, that’s what they continued to do. For us, we just have to be tighter in coverage, and we have to make tackles when that’s called for us. When the play is called for us to make, we have to make them.”

The third-down breakdowns, particularly in the first half, took a toll on the Texans’ defense.

“For us, in the first half, guys weren’t on it defensively,” Ryans said. “They just weren’t on it. We weren’t playing up to our standard. We allowed easy passes to be completed, allowed easy first downs to happen just because of technique, communication, guys not being dialed in together.

“Second half, I felt like it was a different energy. Guys came out different. But we don’t have time to get it started in the second half. We have to come out, we have to play better from start to finish.”

At one point, Anderson, voted a team captain last week in balloting from his teammates, huddled the defense and exhorted them on the sideline. It’s that kind of leadership the Texans need across the roster in addition to promising rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.

“Will, another guy who’s a young guy, who’s a leader, just like C.J.,” Ryans said. “They bring good energy, great energy to our team. They have contagious energy, and everybody else needs to pick it up around those guys.

Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and

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