HOUSTON -- Like years past, the Houston Texans will need to rely on their defense if they have any hope of making the playoffs for the third straight season.
In the two games since rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL, the Texans' offense under Tom Savage has scored just 14 points. Houston is 3-6 and three games back of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans at the top of the AFC South. A third straight division title is looking less and less likely as the season progresses with Watson on the sidelines.
"We have to finish drives," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think it was five or six games in a row where we were scoring a bunch of points. I know that there was a different quarterback in there, but it seemed like we were finishing drives pretty well. We've got to get back to finishing drives in the end zone, not with field goals and obviously not turnovers."
The Texans' defense isn't as good as the unit that finished the 2016 season ranked No. 1. Of course, it is without three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus -- who led the team in sacks last season -- due to season-ending injuries. The unit also lost cornerback A.J. Bouye, safety Quintin Demps and outside linebacker John Simon in free agency.
Houston's defense held the Rams' electric offense, which scored 51 points the week prior, to nine points, six first downs and 131 yards of total offense in the first half. Quarterback Jared Goff was just 11-of-20 for 104 yards, and the game was in the Texans' reach. The defense couldn't keep up the excellent play in the second half, though, and L.A. finished the game with 443 yards of total offense, led by Goff, who was 25-of-37 for 355 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.4.
"We want to start every game and finish games that same way," Jadeveon Clowney said. "We started off good. We had a little slip-up in the third quarter and it got away from us."
On offense, the Texans never got anything going and struggled, again, to move the ball against a potent Rams defense.
"We weren't doing anything offensively," O'Brien said. "It's a team game. You know, if you're not doing anything offensively, it's hard to be on the field all that time."
This season, the Texans' defense has allowed 26.8 points per game, which is second worst in the NFL. While they have had success against the run, the passing defense is ranked 27th in the league, allowing 253.8 passing yards per game.
If the Texans want to start winning again, that charge will likely have to be led by their defense. That success could start Sunday, as the Texans could face quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who started the season as the Cardinals' third-stringer. Drew Stanton sprained his knee during Arizona's loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, and the Cardinals already have lost starter Carson Palmer for the season due to a broken arm.
Nine wins generally gives a team a chance at a playoff berth in the NFL -- as it has for the last three seasons under O'Brien -- which means the Texans have little margin for error moving forward. With an offense that has struggled since Watson's injury, that means the defense has to step up and carry the team, just as the unit has had to for most of the franchise's history.