CINCINNATI, Ohio – Inside the Texans’ victorious locker room, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. was in a good mood.
The Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals, a Super Bowl contender, 30-27, and the former third overall pick from LSU got the win at the expense of two college teammates, quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
“I was conversating,” Stingley said with a laugh. “Joe kind of looked at me, that’s how we always are. Me and Ja’Marr, we was laughing.”
It was that kind of day for Stingley, a former consensus All-American, as he made a healthy return from a major hamstring injury that sidelined him for six games.
Stingley started at outside corner opposite Shaq Griffin with Tavierre Thomas at nickel and Jalen Pitre and DeAndre Houston-Carson at the safety positions. Stingley was on a snap count instead of the usual Texans practice of having their primary outside corner play basically every defensive snap. Texans veteran corner Steven Nelson substituted for Griffin and played a lot of the game despite being originally slated for emergency duty because of neck and back injuries that prevented him from practicing all week.
Stingley played 44 snaps, 69 percent of the defensive snaps as Nelson played 43 snaps and Shaq Griffin, who started, played 40 snaps.
“I feel good,” Stingley said. “Everybody was taking care of me. Pitre was taking care of me. Steve was taking care of me. Everybody was making sure I was good out there.”
Playing a limited amount of snaps was the right call for Stingley since he was shedding rust and getting acclimated to game speed. Stingley practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, then he took the majority of the first-team defensive snaps Thursday and Friday before being activated from injured reserve-designated for return Saturday, as expected.
“Snap count, it was a little weird, but that was the best decision I could have made,” Stingley said.
The Texans decided to activate him after seeing how Stingley performed in practice.
“It was a group decision,” he said. “Some people knew before I knew. I knew before some people. It was a little group thing.”
Stingley didn’t record any statistics, but he seemed to hold up fine in coverage.
“Good, I did my job,” Stingley said.
On the Bengals’ first offensive series, Burrow lobbed a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trenton Irwin. The Texans were in a Cover 2/cloud concept. Stingley played the hole throw. Pitre arrived too late over the top to stop Irwin.
“It was kind of a mix of a couple things,” Stingley said of the coverage.
Irwin said the Texans were in palms, a combination of Cover 2 and quarters.
“His eyes were on Ja’Marr, and Joe threw a great ball,” Irwin said. “Good to get that thing started early. Yeah, he was looking at Ja’Marr.”
Stingley started the first two games of this season and has recorded nine tackles. He was effective in single coverage against Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the season-opener.
Before the injury, Stingley had made significant strides during the offseason and preseason, including adding muscle to his upper body.
At 6-foot and a chiseled 190 pounds, Stingley possesses every tool to become a true lockdown corner. He just needs to become more durable.
Stingley Jr. didn’t allow a touchdown pass as a rookie, displaying the athleticism and coverage skills the Texans envisioned when they selected him instead of cornerback Sauce Gardner, who was named All-Pro as a rookie with the New York Jets after being drafted fourth overall.
“It was Derek’s first game back,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “I think he is getting back into it and I did not want to put him back out there his first game back and have him play 60-plus snaps. It would not be fair to Derrick. For Steven, he was dealing with issues all week but he battled through. I think we had a healthy balance of mixing both of the guys in.”
Nelson had four tackles while playing in a game he had been expected to miss.
“It was rough, it was a rough week trying to get back,” Nelson said. “Obviously, I made the trip and I was able to contribute. It felt really good being a part of this team and being a part of the win. It meant a lot. Came out here, did what we were supposed to do, offense, defense, special teams.”
The Texans improved to 5-4. This marks the first time they’ve won at least five games since the 2019 season. If the season ended today, the Texans would be in the playoffs.
“That’s special, man,” Nelson said. “Got to keep it going.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com