See more photos from the Texans' romping of the Jaguars in our slideshow.
To know the Houston Texans is to know drama, at least from a historical standpoint. Offensive explosions -- both from the Texans and their opponents -- fueled both spectacular wins and crushing collapses in 2009 and 2010. In the end, the ups were generally balanced by the downs, and the result was mediocrity.
Sunday, of course, was nothing of the sort. After a dominant opening drive resulted in a Matt Schaub rushing touchdown, the Texan offense mustered just seven points over the next two and a half quarters. It also essentially gave the Jaguars seven points off a Schaub fumble deep in Houston territory.
Thanks to the new-look defense of Wade Phillips, though, it hardly mattered. The Texans methodically choked the life out of division rival Jacksonville, limiting the Jaguars to just 174 total yards (61 in the second half) while improving to 5-3 on the season and 3-0 in the AFC South.
"We couldn't turn the ball over, and we went out there and did it," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "We did it twice and it led to two touchdowns for them. But we had a defense that stood up today and said, 'We're gonna win the game. We're going to win this football game.'
"And they were excellent all day long. Exceptional."
Defense Flusters Gabbert Led by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars do have the league's statistically worst offense. But they're not THIS bad on their own. The 174 yards were more than 75 below their season average heading into the game.
"The group that we have right now, I think has become a special group," said cornerback Johnathan Joseph.
When Mario Williams was lost for the season, many wondered if the Texans would still be able to harass opposing quarterbacks. So far, so good. Gabbert was briefly knocked out of the game on a hit from Brian Cushing, and was so flustered by the second half that he hilariously offered a profanity-laced tirade to Cushing after being chased out of bounds.
In the end, Gabbert completed just 30 percent of his passes and was picked off twice, once by Cushing and a second time by Jason Allen. His quarterback rating was 26.7.
"I think we've just done a good job since Coach Phillips came in here," said Cushing. "He's really changed the mindset of the way we play and he's instilled an attitude within us. We expect that now and it's something we want to build upon."
From an individual standpoint, Cushing has set the tone from the inside of Houston's 3-4 defensive alignment. His crushing tackles have repeatedly flustered opposing backs and receivers, and his interception Sunday while in coverage offered a glimpse of the playmaking ability he showed in 2009 as a rookie.
"[Phillips] is a guy that makes it fun," said Cushing. "He makes it that you want to play for him and he puts his players in positions to succeed. I feel that way. I feel he's put his trust in me since day one, and it's kind of one of those things that you just don't want to let him down every time you go on the field. You want to play for him."
Making things better, the back of the Houston defense isn't far behind. Despite losing safety Danieal Manning for at least a month with a broken leg, replacement Troy Nolan looked extremely capable in coverage. The Jaguars had just one completion of longer than 12 yards for the entire game.
Offense Comes Alive Late Perhaps most impressively, the Houston defense seemed to pick up the offense.
After struggling to run most of the day against a stout Jacksonville front, Arian Foster took over down the stretch, finishing with 112 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars appeared to wear down on both sides as the Houston defense forced numerous three-and-outs. That gave Jacksonville defenders few opportunities to rest and made any hope of a comeback seem incredibly farfetched.
Quite simply, the first-place Texans broke Jacksonville's collective will.
"It's a great thing to have when you are struggling offensively to make some plays, that they'll keep you in the ball game until you find a way to make those plays," said Schaub. Looking Ahead From an offensive standpoint, Schaub's group does have room for improvement.
For a third time in four weeks, the offensive line struggled to consistently open up holes in the running game. Moreover, a pair of turnovers from Schaub and Ben Tate set up the Jaguars for their 14 points and may have kept the defense from posting a shutout.
Then again, the struggles in the running game have coincided with the absence of Andre Johnson. With his return likely in the next week or two, the Texans should be able to better stretch the field vertically and prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box.
Whatever the case, the biggest takeaway from Sunday's victory is that such offensive improvements -- while nice -- aren't required for the Texans to compete. With a defense that now ranks No. 4 in the NFL, the Texans don't always have to put up 30 points in order to win.
From an organizational standpoint, that represents major improvement.
"It's a great feeling in this business when you've got a team that has a chance to win three different ways," said Kubiak. "You don't show up and have the same formula every week."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
The diversified formulas are leading to better-than-ever results. With a win next Sunday against Cleveland, the Texans would move three games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
It probably won't be dramatic, given the Browns' offensive struggles for much of 2011. But the tradeoff of dramatic for mundane is providing quite a thrill as the season hits the halfway point.
"We're finding ways to win rather than finding ways to lose," said Foster. "It's early still, but you have to start somewhere and this is a great way to start for us."
Our Texans interactive season game card has been updated.