The Texans‘ injuries read like a grocery list.
They have 12 players on injured reserve, most in the league. Four of their best players — left tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Jalen Pitre, linebacker Denzel Perryman, cornerback Tavierre Thomas — were inactive Sunday. Between IR and injured players on its active roster, Houston was down four starting offensive linemen (Tunsil, left guard Kenyon Green, center Juice Scruggs, right tackle Tytus Howard) and three of its top defensive backs (Pitre; cornerbacks Thomas and Derek Stingley Jr.) for its Week 3 showdown at Jacksonville. The biggest strengths for rebuilding Houston were decimated.
At least on this Sunday, it didn’t matter.
The Texans stunned the Jaguars 37-17 on the road Sunday at EverBank Stadium for DeMeco Ryans’ first win as head coach, a blowout victory. It continued Houston’s dominance over Jacksonville (1-2). The Texans (1-2) have now won 10 of their past 11 meetings against the Jags.
Houston’s special teams unit, one of the best in the league last year, had two of the biggest plays of the game.
Late in the third quarter, fullback Andrew Beck returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown despite bobbling the ball at first. Beck reversed field after securing the ball, leading to six missed tackles from the Jaguars.
In the second quarter, rookie edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., the No. 3 overall pick, also blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt by placekicker Brandon McManus. Linebacker Jake Hansen recovered at the Houston 41, which led to a touchdown for the Texans.
“Two game-changing plays,” Ryans said.
Sunday’s game for Houston was also about those who stepped up in wake of the bevy of offensive line and secondary injuries.
Largely because of those injuries, the Texans have been unable to protect rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has shown early signs that he can be the team’s franchise quarterback. The No. 2 overall pick had been sacked a league-high 11 times entering Week 3. And among qualified quarterbacks, he’s been pressured on 43.1% of his dropbacks, the fifth-highest rate in the league, according to Next Gen Stats.
The Texans’ hobbled O-line did a terrific job protecting Stroud on Sunday. He wasn’t sacked once and was hit just four times overall. It helped the former Ohio State star to another great showing early in his rookie season: 20-of-30 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and a 118.8 passer rating.
“They played well as a unit, and that’s what it takes in protection,” Ryans said. “It takes all five guys playing together. Tight ends, backs helping in protection and the quarterback getting the ball out on time where it needs to go. So it’s all 11 guys playing well, but it’s truly a credit to coach [Chris] Strausser and the O-line for what they did today.”
And the Texans’ pass defense that many observers thought would struggle against Trevor Lawrence and his weapons (Calvin Ridley, Evan Engram, Christian Kirk) rose to the occasion. Houston had two takeaways in pass defense — with safety Eric Murray stripping receiver Jamal Agnew after a catch in the second quarter (the ball was recovered by linebacker Blake Cashman), and Cashman picking off Lawrence in the third quarter.
The cherry on top for the Texans? Stroud connecting with third-round rookie receiver Tank Dell for a wide-open 68-yard touchdown, which pushed Houston’s lead to 34-17 with 8:59 remaining. Dell threw up a peace sign on his way to the end zone.
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It was a thorough whoopin’ for the Texans — hobbled and all.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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