HOUSTON -- As the 1-4 Houston Texans prepare to square off with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the last-place AFC South club is showing defensive deficiencies that weren't evident last season.
Ranked 24th in scoring defense, 22nd against the run and 11th against the pass, the Texans have regressed considerably from the dominant defense that spearheaded them last season.
During a 4-1 stretch to close out last season, the Texans ranked first in third-down defense and gave up zero rushing touchdowns while ranking second in yards allowed per game. The Texans have already given up six touchdown runs this year.
The Texans invested heavily in the defense this offseason, making the regression all the more troubling.
Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was signed to a two-year, $9 million contract. Free safety Rahim Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus was rewarded with a four-year, $26 million contract extension after a five-sack season.
And the Texans drafted two promising defenders, selecting cornerback Kevin Johnson in the first round and inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney in the second round.
Although the Texans have four new starters in Wilfork, Moore, strong safety Quintin Demps and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney with Mercilus now starting at a different position opposite Clowney, these were supposed to be upgrades for an already strong defense.
Instead, the Texans have struggled mightily. Star defensive end J.J. Watt has four sacks, but his teammates have contributed just two sacks with one for Crick, another split by safeties Demps and Eddie Pleasant and none for Clowney or Mercilus.
"You know what we're capable of, and you know we haven't shown what we're capable of yet," Watt said Wednesday. "You know what it feels like when it is going right. You just need to make sure that you get that message across to your team. You need to make sure everybody believes in that message."
The Texans have experienced communication issues in the secondary. Defensive linemen and linebackers have repeatedly been unable to shed blocks. It's been a time of change and adjustment.
"I think we're starting to understand each other," Moore said. "We're headed in the right direction. We're learning, getting better and we're hungry, too."
The Texans allowed 571 rushing yards, giving up 3.8 yards per carry. Opposing quarterbacks have nine touchdown passes, 1,168 yards and a cumulative 93.8 passer rating.
Despite the glaring frequency of the breakdowns, the Texans, at least outwardly, have maintained a steadfast confidence.
"We have a belief in ourselves," outside linebacker John Simon said. "That's something we have to carry over on the field. We're never satisfied. We need to play physical football, together. We have faith in one another that we're going to do what we're supposed to do."
SERIES HISTORY: Texans are 15-11 all-time against the Jaguars. The Texans beat the Jaguars 23-17 to finish last season.
GAME PLAN: The Texans will attempt to bottle up quarterback Blake Bortles, whom J.J. Watt sacked three times in one game last season. The Texans will emphasize the run more this game and also try to get DeAndre Hopkins going. He's off to a fast start to the season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jaguars defense: Hopkins can record his fourth consecutive 100-yard game Sunday, which would tie Andre Johnson's franchise record. Hopkins is dangerous on every play, especially on double-move patterns and slants.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt vs. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles: Bortles threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Watt has four sacks, but was shut out against the Colts. Watt leads the Texans with 10 quarterback hits. Watt needs one more sack to pass Richard Dent (61 1/2 sacks) for the most sacks in the first five seasons of a player's career.