Texans' secondary a primary concern
(TSX / STATS) -- HOUSTON -- The loss of cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Jacksonville Jaguars during free agency represented a mighty blow to the Houston Texans' defense.
Bouye emerged as one of the top corners in the NFL last season and was rewarded with a five-year, $67.5 million contract that included $26 million guaranteed.
The Texans' secondary, partly because of a sprained medial collateral ligament that has kept cornerback Kevin Johnson out for the past four games and because of the absence of Bouye's shutdown presence, has resulted in a revolving door at cornerback besides reliable veterans Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson.
They've used Johnthan Banks, who was released, Marcus Burley and Marcus Williams in a third cornerback role.
Meanwhile, Bouye remains one of the highest-ranked corners in the league as the Jaguars rank fourth in pass defense, with the Texans ranking 15th overall after finishing second a year ago.
"A.J. is on another team right now, but I am aware of his success," Texans secondary coach John Butler said. "I am aware that he's continuing to play well. I'm happy for him. We wish him the best. A.J. is with the Jaguars. It's my job to get whoever we have available ready to play and hopefully play well."
The Texans have had to adjust to several different personnel groupings in the secondary this season.
So far, it's worked for the most part except against elite quarterbacks.
The Texans allowed eight touchdown passes combined to the New England Patriots' Tom Brady and the Kansas City Chiefs' Alex Smith. Against other quarterbacks, they've only given up two touchdown passes.
Johnson injured his left knee against the Bengals and is slated to return to practice next week. Johnson was placed on injured reserve last season with the second Jones fracture of his career that required surgery.
When healthy, the former first-round draft pick from Wake Forest has displayed a lot of talent and toughness. "When healthy" is the operative phrase surrounding Johnson.
"One of Kevin's biggest things is staying healthy," Butler said. "He plays fearless. Eventually, I think his body will catch up to the way he plays and allow him to play 16 games."
--The decline in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' production a year ago could be chalked up easily to the incompetence of $72 million quarterback bust Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler routinely threw interceptions while targeting Hopkins, sailing throws.
Hopkins wound up falling to 78 catches for 954 yards and four touchdowns last season one year removed from making the Pro Bowl when he caught a career-high 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns.
With rookie quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson throwing him the football this year, Hopkins' production has skyrocketed to 37 catches for 382 yards and six touchdowns. He's on pace to catch 98 passes for 1,018 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"I don't know that he's getting back," Texans receivers coach John Perry said. "The big thing I had talked to him about was the leadership, and he's been an unbelievable leader. He's brought out the best in every guy and that's important."
--Between veteran Lamar Miller and rookie D'Onta Foreman, the Texans have built an effective running back tandem.
Miller leads the Texans with 372 rushing yards and has one touchdown, also catching 15 passes for 175 yards and a score.
A third-round draft pick from Texas who grew up in Texas City, Foreman has gained 207 yards and had a season-long 39-yard run against the Cleveland Browns.
"I think they've been a good combo so far," Texans running backs coach Charles London said. "We've taken a few carries off of Lamar. He's averaging somewhere between 15 to 18 carries a game. D'Onta's kind of picking up the slack from there, but I think he keeps him fresher toward the end of games and hopefully fresher in December and January."
Foreman is averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
"He still has a long way to go, but he's coming along," London said. "He's a downhill, north-south, violent runner. He's always falling forward. He runs tough."
--Behind the strength of a two-interception performance that included a touchdown return, Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Joseph had three tackles, one for a loss, and three passes defended.
He intercepted a pass from Browns quarterback Kevin Hogan and returned it 82 yards, the fourth-longest return in franchise history and the longest of his career.
Joseph now has 14 interceptions as a Texan, the most in franchise history. He passed Kareem Jackson and Dunta Robinson on the all-time chart.
The two-time Pro-Bowl selection has 28 career interceptions overall, including his time with the Cincinnati Bengals.
NOTES: ILB Dylan Cole suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain and is expected to miss four to six weeks. ... T Chris Clark injured his calf, but expects to play after the bye against the Seahawks. ... CB Kevin Johnson (sprained MCL) is slated to return after the bye and could play against Seattle.
Updated October 19, 2017