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On paper, it was another defensive masterpiece Sunday for Wade Phillips and the Texan defense. Houston frustrated Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, snagging two interceptions and holding him to 43-percent passing en route to a 17-10 victory.
Statistics are not always what they seem, but what you won’t see penciled in Sunday’s box score is that Houston’s secondary struggled. Mightily.
Matching up against one of the NFL’s elite receiving corps, the Texans were caught out of position early and often. Both cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph had problems covering Falcons receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, specifically on deep routes and slants.
Luckily for the Texans, those open looks didn’t translate into big plays for the Falcons. When opportunity came their way, Falcons receivers did their best Clifford Franklin impression, letting easy catches slip right through their hands.
But while Atlanta’s pass catchers and their helpful hands bailed out Houston’s secondary, their real savior was the Texan pass rush. Again.
Though unable to record a sack, defensive end Connor Barwin and company were in Ryan’s face all day. Barwin got to the quarterback four times, a team-high for the day as Texans defenders combined for 10 quarterback hits. During the game, the hits to Ryan appeared to shake his confidence. Ryan - nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his coolness under pressure - melted when the pass rush neared, forcing ugly throws well out of the reach of his usually open targets.
An ugly victory is still a victory. Yet the Texans secondary, one that has been largely untested during the preceding six weeks, did not look like one capable of shutting down a playoff-caliber passing attack on Sunday. The secondary must learn to make plays on its own. Should the pass rush have an off day, elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger could pick them apart.