HOUSTON – Blake Cashman perfectly anticipated the snap count, shooting the gap in rapid-fire movement to sack elusive Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray for a loss of eight yards.
It was that kind of game for Cashman. Shifting to the Mike linebacker position with Denzel Perryman suspended for two games by the NFL for illegal hits and with rookie Henry To’oTo’o out for the second game in a row with a concussion, Cashman piled up a career-high 19 tackles with 13 solos and two quarterback hits in a 21-16 victory that gave the 6-4 Texans their third win in a row.
Cashman was one tackle shy of tying the franchise record held by Kamu Grugier-Hill’s 20 tackles in 2021 against the Indianapolis Colts. He joined Patrick Willis and Shaq Leonard as the only three players in NFL history to have at least 19 tackles, one sack and one pass defensed in a single game.
“For me, personally, my job was to command the defense and have great communication and make sure the guys were on the same page,” Cashman said. “At that point, it’s just playing football and getting after them.”
A former New York Jets fifth-round draft pick acquired in a trade for a sixth-round draft pick last year, Cashman signed a one-year contract extension last season. That in-season deal is paying off with dividends for the Texans.
Cashman, 27, leads the Texans with 72 tackles and has two sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery. He’s been the Texans’ top pass coverage linebacker and won AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors earlier this season against the New Orleans Saints. He’s on pace to finish the season with a career-high 122 tackles.
“The way our guys communicated, really credit Cashman for stepping in at the Mike linebacker spot, which he hasn’t played all year,” said Texans coach DeMeco Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker. “But the way he stepped in, the way he communicated in those pressure moments, it was awesome to see him step up and play big for us today.”
Limiting Murray, an ultra-dangerous two-time Pro Bowl selection, to 214 yards with one touchdown pass, one interception and one touchdown run and 51 rushing yards was a solid performance.
“It’s hard to keep a guy like that from making plays,” said Cashman, a 6-foot-1, 237-pound former University of Minnesota player who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds. “He’s a dynamic player, an explosive player. They’ve got a lot of speed on that field, bringing out all those weapons. We knew if we could keep the ball in front of us and make them earn their drives we could be in good position to win the football game.”
The Texans’ defense has come up short late in games at times this season, including during a loss to the Atlanta Falcons on the road.
This time, though, they held up well. Texans veteran corner Steven Nelson knocked away a Murray pass on fourth down intended for wide receiver Hollywood Brown to ice the game. One down earlier, linebacker Christian Harris leapt to bat away a Murray pass in the backfield on a blitz.
“It felt great just because it’s something we’ve been emphasizing,” Cashman said. “As a defense, you take pride in closing out games. There’s been a couple instances this year where we haven’t been able to do that. So, to emphasize it, to practice it, to work on it every week and then to finally have the opportunity to do it and close out, it’s great.”
The Texans are primed for an AFC South division showdown against the division-leading Jacksonville Jaguars, a 7-3 team they defeated earlier this season. This is a key matchup.
The growth of the Texans as a team under Ryans, a rookie head coach, and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud is obvious.
“It’s just everybody believing in each other, everybody holding each other accountable to execute their job,” Cashman said. “Something that’s been so impressive this year, and I’ve never seen it before, is the level of maturity and composure from our young players who are new to this. C.J. Stroud is obviously an example of that. They don’t flinch when things get good or bad. It’s tunnel vision.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.