HOUSTON – When the NFL suspended veteran middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, the Texans’ defense took a hit with the subtraction of a hard-hitting former Pro Bowl selection.
Although Perryman was able to reduce his three-game suspension to two games upon an appeal heard by NFL disciplinary hearing officer James Thrash, the Texans have to adapt to his loss on a short-term basis.
Perryman, punished for his hit on sliding Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase that made contact with his helmet, will miss games against the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars.
With Perryman suspended and rookie middle linebacker Henry To’oTo’o out with a concussion for the second game in a row as well as Jake Hansen with a broken hand that required surgery, the Texans are shuffling their personnel at linebacker.
The Texans are expected to start Blake Cashman at Mike linebacker in place of Perryman with Cory Littleton lining up at Sam linebacker and Christian Harris continuing to start at his Will linebacker spot Sunday against the Cardinals at NRG Stadium, according to league sources.
“Man, I feel like this is wash, rinse, repeat up here,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “Sad for Denzel to have to go through that and miss that. He’d obviously been playing decent for us since he’d been back the last few games. Again, that room’s been sort of a more rotating situation for us, and I feel like it’s just what we do. Next guy up is going to play and we’re going to keep working some groups and having some different spots to try and take.
“I think some of the philosophy is just trying to take the burden off of any one guy in that room or in that situation where like, ‘You have to fill in and play this whole game or do this.’ Keep trying to kind of work some guys through in different spots and different packages to make sure that there’s not an overload on any one of those guys. But we’ve got some good players in that room. We’re going to be alright.”
Perryman ranks third on the defense in tackles with 41 stops in six games and five starts, missing some time earlier this season with a broken hand.
Cashman and To’oTo’o are tied for the lead with 53 tackles for the NFL’s eighth-ranked run defense.
Cashman has eight tackles for losses, one interception, one sack and one fumble recovery.
“It’s a big loss,” Cashman said. “He’s our Mike linebacker, leader of the defense, a guy who has played a very high level for a long time. To lose him, it sucks. As we know in this game, it’s next man up. Everybody else needs to step up and do a little more work in studying and making sure every player who’s up and playing is ready to go.”
It’s a difficult time for Perryman to be away from his teammates. He’s remaining in town and working out with his private trainer, Justin Allen.
“We all reached out to him and let him know we’re with him,” Cashman said. “He’s frustrated because he’s a competitor and he wants to be here for the team. I know he’s going through it, but we’ve got his back.”
The Texans are allowing 3.5 yards per carry and 98.2 rushing yards per contest.
The Cardinals have a downhill, bruising running back in James Conner, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has rushed for 437 yards and two touchdowns this season. He returned from a knee injury and rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries last week in a 25-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Conner is a bigger runner at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds.
“Yeah, he’s a back having a really great year,” Cashman said. “Big dude, strong runner, seeks contact. We have to execute, tackle and make sure we’re getting a lot of hats to the ball.”
#Texans linebacker Blake Cashman on defending Kyler Murray and losing Denzel Perryman to a three game suspension he's appealing today, said the guys have all reached out to veteran linebacker and feel for him, adding this is 'frustrating' for Perryman @KPRC2 pic.twitter.com/eqDrJdMBCE— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) November 15, 2023
Perryman provides an aggressive force inside. With Perryman out of the lineup, it’s on the other linebackers, the front seven and the secondary to step up.
“For sure, Denzel is a big piece in our defense and I feel like it’s going to be pretty hard with him being out, but I feel like that’s been our season,” safety Jalen Pitre said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries and guys have stepped up. I look forward to who we have in that spot and being able to fly around. I’m confident in whoever coach puts out there. It’s going to be fun come Sunday against the Cardinals.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com