Texans defense remains solid despite loss of superstar Watt

HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston's defense hasn't fallen apart without star defensive end J.J. Watt.

In fact, it has been the strength of a team that enters its bye week 5-3 despite inconsistent play by new quarterback Brock Osweiler.

"There's always room for improvement, but I think overall guys have stepped up their play across the board whether it's the d-line, the linebackers, secondary," veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "It's hard to replace the production (Watt) brings to the table, but I think we're more than capable with the guys we have on defense and that just has to be our mentality."

The Texans ranked fifth in the NFL through Sunday's games in allowing 316.2 yards a game . Coach Bill O'Brien has been impressed with the way his defense has responded without Watt.

"Injuries do happen, but look we have lost the three-time Defense Player of the Year and those are hard injuries to overcome for some teams," O'Brien said. "But not for this team so far because we have a resilient locker room and we have a bunch of guys in there that play hard."

Their pass defense is allowing the second-fewest yards in the NFL with 190.5. The Texans have done this despite playing several games without a variety of starters in the secondary. Joseph sat out large portions of two games, cornerback Kareem Jackson missed two games and safety Quintin Demps has sat out the past three.

Joseph shared why he thinks Houston has been so good against the pass this season.

"Players playing the right technique, (defensive coordinator) Romeo (Crennel) making great calls in great situations, guys challenging throws, the pass rush getting there and harassing the quarterback all day," he said.

The emergence of cornerback A.J. Bouye has helped Houston's secondary remain solid despite the injuries. Bouye, who was signed to the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013, has 33 tackles along with nine pass break-ups and a sack.

Watt was placed on the injured reserve after three games and had season-ending back surgery a few days later. Without Watt, who led the NFL in sacks with 17 1/2 last year, the Texans asked Jadeveon Clowney to expand his role. And for the first time in his injured-plagued career, the top overall pick in the 2014 draft has responded.

Clowney moved from outside linebacker to defensive end to fill in for Watt and has thrived. He has 30 tackles, three sacks and leads the team with nine tackles for losses .

He's started all eight games after not starting more than four in a row in his first two years in the NFL. That, O'Brien said, is a big reason why he's finally playing to his potential.

"The fact that he's out there every day at practice, getting all the reps in practice and then having all the reps in the games. There's no substitute for that," he said. "When you're young and you're injured and you're in and out of the lineup or you're not in the lineup for a long time, it's hard. It's hard to make up that lost ground and I think he's done a really good job of being out there every day and he's been one of our most productive players. No doubt about it."

While the Texans have been great against the pass, they're hoping to improve against the run when they return to play on Nov. 13 at Jacksonville after their bye. Houston is allowing 125.8 yards rushing per game, which is unacceptable to Crennel.

"I put all the pressure on myself ... they need to play better (and) I need to coach better," Crennel said.