HOUSTON — Six days after Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton torched the Houston Texans to the tune of 199 yards, the Texans will face another receiver with just as much — if not more — breakaway speed than Hilton in New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson.
“They’ve got a receiver that probably runs as fast as anybody we’ve played in Anderson,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said.
At the 2012 combine, Hilton clocked a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, second fastest among receivers, behind only Travis Benjamin. Though Anderson wasn’t at the 2016 combine, he caught the Jets’ attention with a blazing 40-yard dash time at his Temple pro day — 4.34.
Anderson’s chemistry with Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has improved in recent weeks, especially blossoming at the end of New York’s 27-23 win against the Buffalo Bills last week. Anderson had four catches for 76 yards on seven targets, including one game-changing 37-yard catch down the sideline on the Jets’ game-winning drive.
So how do the Texans prevent history from repeating itself again Saturday?
“You’ve got to take away the vertical ball,” rookie safety Justin Reid said. “T.Y. is a special type of player, and he’s a good player week in and week out against any team he faces. What we have to do for [Anderson] is try our best to take away those big plays.”
Though Houston’s rush defense ranks fifth in the league, allowing just 88.2 yards per game, the pass defense ranks 24th at 260.6 yards per game. The Texans rank 19th in opponents’ yards per completion at 10.9 yards. Only two teams — the Raiders and the Rams — have surrendered more pass plays of 40 yards or more than Houston’s 11, two of which came last week against Hilton.
“Today’s NFL is full of guys that can run,” Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “We have to do a better job no matter who’s back there. You can’t give up big plays — you have to minimize those.”
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said it’s just a matter of the secondary staying sharp, forcing turnovers and “wreaking havoc.”
Though Houston’s defensive backs have shouldered much of the blame for Hilton’s performance, both O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said the receiver’s success was actually a mix of failures by the secondary and the pass rush.
“It’s a combination of things — we have to do a better job of staying on top of the receiver, we have to do a better job of rushing the quarterback,” Crennel said. “It kind of goes hand in hand sometimes, but I think those are the two things that have to happen. When you’re facing those really fast guys, you stay on top of them. Then, if we can get the quarterback down or get him off the spot, that helps also because that destroys some timing.”
Houston’s defense ranks 11th with 36 sacks and defensive end J.J. Watt is tied for third in the league with 12.5 sacks, but the pass pressure has taken a slight dip in the past two weeks. After being blanked by the Cleveland Browns and failing to sack Baker Mayfield, the Texans sacked Andrew Luck just twice — one by Watt and one by Christian Covington.
How can the Texans pressure Darnold to take away the time he’ll need to make those big plays downfield?
“You can do many different things,” Watt said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of guys getting chipped or double-teamed or whatever it may be. Sometimes it’s just simply pass-rushing better, having better moves. Sometimes it’s schemes. There are many different things you can do. But obviously, myself and the pass-rushers on this team, we put a lot on our shoulders, and sometimes it’s just a matter of making a play.”