The Texans say they’re different, better and more mature than they were in 2010.
In one half on Sunday, Drew Brees and the Saints showed the Texans what still needs fixing.
The Saints rallied from a 26-17 deficit in the fourth quarter of a 40-33 victory, leaving the Texans (2-1) right where they were last year, when a 2-1 start disintegrated into a 6-10 finish. Houston plays Pittsburgh (2-1) on Sunday.
Houston’s defense ranked near the bottom in every statistical category in 2010, and Brees exposed the same old deficiencies. The Texans’ pass rush failed to generate pressure, and Brees picked apart the secondary in the fourth quarter, going 12 for 17 with two touchdown passes.
Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that the defense seemed to lose its focus late in the game. But he said one bad quarter won’t shake his belief in new coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, or in the players Houston has in place.
“We didn’t play well, especially in the fourth quarter,” Kubiak said. “We weren’t as aggressive in our coverages in the fourth quarter than we had been earlier in the game, trusting in some of the things we’re doing defensively, and what Wade’s asking us to do.
“We played a good team, and we did not close the game,” Kubiak said. “We take full responsibility for that. But we’ve got a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. We’ll get our chins back up and correct our mistakes.”
Second-year cornerback Kareem Jackson, the lightning rod for criticism of the secondary last year, struggled to keep up with Lance Moore, who finished with nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown.
Kubiak said Jackson shouldn’t be singled out for the defensive breakdowns in New Orleans.
“Any time you get beat, that’s not good enough as a team,” Kubiak said. “It’s just not about Kareem. He has to get better, but so does everybody within the group.”
The Texans were closing in on their first 3-0 start until the fourth quarter, and Kubiak can still glean plenty of positives up to that point.
Houston seems to have found the remedy for its slow starts, a major issue last year. The Texans have outscored their first three opponents 33-3 in the first quarter.
And the defense seems to be making more plays, with key offseason acquisitions Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning both intercepting Brees. Houston already has six takeaways after producing only 18 last season.
But Kubiak started Monday’s team meeting by addressing Houston’s red-zone problems, a new issue. With 2010 NFL leading rusher Arian Foster sidelined for the second time in three games with a left hamstring injury, the Texans have struggled to convert drives inside the 20-yard line.
The Texans are tied with New England for most red-zone possessions through the first three games (16), but Houston has settled for nine field goals. They penetrated the Saints’ 20-yard line on five series on Sunday, and only scored one touchdown with four field goals.
Houston kicked field goals at the end of three drives in its 23-13 win over Miami the previous week. The Texans’ defense held up, though, so the red-zone issues weren’t as noticeable.
Last year, Houston scored on 62.3 percent of its red-zone chances, fifth-best in the league. Kubiak said the issues this year are a combination of play-calling and lack of execution.
“Coaches have got to do a better job in the preparation of their groups, and the players have got to make plays when it’s time to make plays,” Kubiak said. “We have a nice problem, going down there a lot. But obviously, what we’re doing is not good enough and we’ve got to figure out a way to fix it.”
Houston has called 26 running plays inside the red zone through three games, and gained 1 yard on 11 of them. The Texans have also faced 10 third downs in the red zone, and needed at least eight yards to convert on seven of them.
Kubiak is hoping that Foster will be healthy enough to start against Pittsburgh on Sunday, and that would be a big help.
“Down there, the field gets very small. Every yard is huge. Positive yardage is huge,” Kubiak said. “We had a couple of runs (Sunday) that, in my opinion, they ought to score, but they didn’t. So we’ve got to go figure out how we can get them to score.
“It’s not one thing,” he said. “It’s not like saying, ‘fix this and we’ll be okay.’ It’s everybody taking responsibility and see if we can be better against Pittsburgh. Like I said, we just have got to improve on it, no excuses.”