Worst to first, Texans' defense clicks with Phillips

The Sports Xchange
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Last season, the Texans ranked 30th in defense (376.9 yards), 32nd against the pass (367.5) and 29th in points allowed (26.7).

After two games in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, they rank first in defense (271), pass defense (162.5) and points allowed (10).

Fans and media in Houston are still skeptical because the Texans have beaten Indianapolis and Miami, who have a combined 4-0 record.

The defense has played against quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Chad Henne. Collins had less than three weeks in the Colts' system, but Henne threw for 416 yards and helped the Dolphins score 24 points in a 38-24 loss to New England.

The Texans limited Henne to 170 yards and the Dolphins to 13 points -- or 11 less than they scored against the Patriots at Sun Life Stadium.

The Texans probably won't be ranked first next week because they play at New Orleans. Drew Brees represents a much bigger test for their defense. He'll be followed by Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell and Joe Flacco. We'll see where the Texans rank after they play that foursome.

It's interesting to note that the Texans are playing old-fashion football. They rank fifth in rushing even though Arian Foster, the defending rushing champion, has missed six of the eight quarters because of a strained hamstring.

The running game and defense have moved to the forefront over their passing game, which ranks 22nd. It's only a matter of time before Matt Schaub gets into a shootout like last season.

The difference is that as the competition gets tougher, so should the Texans' defense. It's off to a good start but is a work in progress. Imagine how good it can be once the players figure out the system and become more confident in what Phillips is calling.

--The Texans are 2-0 for the second season in a row after winning 23-13 at Miami, but the topic of conversation in Houston is the running back situation.

Second-year running back Ben Tate, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, has come off the bench to register triple-digit performances in the first two games of his career. He's one of 11 backs to accomplish that feat.

The question is, will Tate become the third different running back to start when the Texans play at New Orleans?

Arian Foster, the defending rushing champion, missed the 34-7 victory over Indianapolis because of a strained hamstring. Derrick Ward replaced him in the lineup and sprained his ankle, putting him on the sideline.

Foster returned against the Dolphins. On the first series, he carried six times for 22 yards and caught one pass for four yards. On his last six carries of the first half, Foster gained 11 yards. He finished with 33 yards on 10 carries. He didn't play in the second half because his hamstring became tight and he looked fatigued, according to coach Gary Kubiak.

Tate didn't play until the last series of the first quarter. He had four carries for 21 yards in the first half and 19 for 82 in the second, including 11 consecutive carries on the last two series when the Texans were using up the clock.

Kubiak said Foster would continue to be brought along at the same pace, but they don't know from day to day how his injury is going to feel. Meanwhile, Tate has run like a back possessed off the bench, and many fans and members of the media are wondering how well he would do if he started.

That's something Houston might find out when it kicks off against the Saints. Perhaps Tate will start, and Steve Slaton will back him up. Or perhaps Tate will start, and Foster will back him up.

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