Texans Need Better Performance From Young Defensive Backs

Houston and Jacksonville might be just fine down the road in the secondary, after their young starters settle down and figure out the nuances of playing defense in the NFL.

Until then, the Texans and Jaguars will probably continue to experience growing pains.

Houston and Jacksonville have two of the youngest secondaries in the league, with the Texans (4-4) going with a rookie and a second-year player at cornerback and the Jaguars (4-4) starting three second-year guys alongside veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis.

Those inexperienced combinations have resulted in big plays, long touchdowns and two of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Both teams will try to turn things around in the second half of the season, which begins Sunday in Jacksonville.

"In this league, every week you face guys that can make plays,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "There's no place to hide in this league. When you go young at a position, regardless of where that is, you've got to expect them to play like pros and play there very quickly and our guys have at times.

"But the thing we're missing is a consistent concentration, a consistent technique and consistent effort throughout the ball game for 60 minutes, and it's something we're going to have to find real quick.''

The Texans rank last in the league in pass defense, giving up 298 yards a game. The Jaguars aren't much better, sitting 28th and allowing 267 yards a game.

Each of the AFC South rivals has surrendered a league-high nine passing plays of at least 40 yards. The Texans have allowed a league-high 20 touchdown passes, three more than the Jaguars, and the beleaguered defenses rank first (Jaguars) and second (Texans) in average yards per completion.

Quarterbacks Matt Schaub and David Garrard have to be smiling heading into Sunday's matchup, right?

"We can't just think that it's going to be walk out there and make plays all day long,'' Garrard said. "It's not.''

It's pretty much been that way for others, though.

Houston has given up at least 250 yards passing in six of eight games this season, with opposing quarterbacks picking on either rookie cornerback Kareem Jackson or second-year cornerback Glover Quin. Jacksonville has allowed huge passing performances - at least 290 yards - against Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Dallas.

Neither team seems all that concerned, though.

"Are they at the top of the league? No. But I don't feel like they're letting us down at all,'' Texans right tackle Eric Winston said. "I feel like there's a sense the offense has to take ownership and we got to do what we got to do to win the game.''

San Diego's Seyi Ajirotutu beat Jackson for two long touchdown passes in last week's 29-23 loss. The big plays overshadowed Jackson's second interception of the season.

Despite Jackson's struggles, Kubiak decided to stick with the rookie.

"I think he's going to be a tremendous player in this league and we've got to support what we're doing with him and that side of the ball,'' Kubiak said. "If you're not thinking positive, you're going to have a hard time getting better and we're going to stay positive in our approach and expect him to do his job.''

Kubiak believes Jackson will improve by staying on the field.

Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio took the opposite approach with his guys.

Del Rio benched second-year cornerback Derek Cox early in the season. Del Rio eventually went back to Cox, who started every game as a rookie, but needed seven games to settle on a starting secondary.

Jacksonville traded former starting safeties Reggie Nelson and Anthony Smith and cut fill-in Gerald Alexander twice before turning to second-year guys Courtney Greene and Don Carey.

Greene and Carey took their lumps early, but like Cox, they have been considerably better in recent weeks.

"I think you're seeing less mistakes, you're seeing more confidence, you're seeing guys that are playing faster and those are good things to have going on,'' Del Rio said. "So there's a little clarity back there in terms of calls they need to make, communicate with their partners out there and the confidence to do it and to play fast. And I think that's what we're looking for, to play faster as a group and be more effective.''

Both defenses expect better results down the stretch. Whichever does might have a better shot at making the playoffs.

"We've got some nice excuses, but there are no excuses in this business,'' Kubiak said. "We have played well at times, but in the overall picture, we're giving up too many big plays and ... we have to have a big-time improvement from that standpoint.''

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