Texans encouraged by upgraded pass rush

Jon Greenard busted into the Carolina Panthers’ backfield for a strip sack Thursday night, forcing the first fumble of his career.

Greenard hadn’t played in a game since last season as he was inactive for the first two games after spraining his ankle against the Green Bay Packers during a preseason.

Starting in a revamped defensive line along with fellow defensive end Jacob Martin, Greenard was part of a resurgent pass rush that recorded three sacks and five quarterback hits during a 24-9 loss at NRG Stadium.

A third-round draft pick from Florida who had one sack as a rookie last season, Greenard was encouraged by his performance.

“I left some plays out there,” Greenard said. “I feel like it was a good game to get my feet back under me in a game situation, fast pace, but definitely always room for improvement, but it was solid. I know I could do better. It was smooth.

“It's something that's expected of us, so to get excited or think: ‘This is something that's just so crazy that we’re seeing, I don't think it's time for that. I just think that I did what I was supposed to do, just followed the technique, followed the system it allows us to do. You follow the system, and it's going to make you make a play. I think it was solid, we just left some plays out there we would like to get back. A solid start.”

The Texans also got a sack from Whitney Mercilus, a sack and forced fumble from defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and quarterback hits from Charles Omenihu and DeMarcus Walker. Omenihu had a 90.9 pass rushing grade, according to Pro Football Focus analytics, and Greenard had an 82.5 followed by Maliek Collins’ 81.1 mark.

It was a big improvement as Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold fumbled twice. He passed for 304 yards with no touchdowns, but was under some duress.

Carolina Panthers v Houston Texans

Photo: Getty Images

“We did a good job of that,” Texans coach David Culley said. “I go back to what I said about obviously our defensive line has been playing very, very hard. We play a bunch of guys in there. They put some pressure. As a matter of fact, they put so much pressure on him that we end up having a couple of fumbles there last night that they created.

“Had we been able to get those – obviously we didn’t have any turnovers, neither one of us did – but those could have been game-changers. It just didn’t happen or us and that’s football. I thought that defensively, the one thing that we didn’t do in this ballgame that we have to do a better job of, is we got them in some 2nd-and-longs, we got them in a 3rd-and-long one time, and they ended up getting explosive plays off those. We can’t have that. Their football team had about eight explosive plays, we had three. That’s tough sledding when that happens.”

Going forward, the Texans need to provide even more of a pass rush. That starts again next week against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

“I think we’re solid,” Blacklock said. “I think we’re a good team regardless of what just happened. I wouldn’t say go in complete panic mode. We have a good defense in general. Just wasn’t our night.

“Pass rush was definitely a little bit better his week rather than last week. Guys got a lot of action, got a couple of strip balls. We pride ourselves to be productive. We can always be better.”

The Texans dropped to 1-2, but are 1-0 in AFC South games with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“It’s no time to hit the panic button,” Greenard said. “I think we're just going to go back to the drawing board and get back on it, and you'll see the progression.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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