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Culley Aims Frustration at Texans' Main Problem

Houston stuck in error-prone rut of repeat penalties during six-game losing streak

HOUSTON -- David Culley has built a clear agenda for the last-place Houston Texans’ myriad of problems, outlining a specific priority list for making corrections to address some of the more frustrating and costly breakdowns.

That starts with the recurring penalty issue, a thorny problem that is making it even more difficult for the 1-6 Texans to be competitive.

As wide receiver Brandin Cooks stated correctly, the Texans aren’t a disciplined team. Their six-game losing streak reflects that.

That situation is borne out by them being penalized eight times for 80 yards during their sixth consecutive loss, a 31-5 road defeat to the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

The Texans rank 28th in the NFL with an average of 7.3 penalties per game and 26th with 64.9 yards of penalties per week.

“It’s been a deal with us from the start,” Culley said. “We’re working on that every day that we are on the field, to concentrate and get that taken care of. We haven’t done a good job of getting that done yet. That’s the first focus that we are going to make sure moving forward that we find exactly what that is, our coaching staff, and get our players to where we are eliminating those. It’s killing us on first and second down on offense and we’ve had some untimely penalties on defense.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating, but we’re going to keep addressing it. We’re going to keep addressing it till we get it corrected. The only way to get it corrected is just stay after it. We’re going to stay after it and it’s going to get corrected. Unfortunately, it’s taking a little bit longer than what we want and it’s keeping us from what we need to be on offense and keeping us from keeping them out of the end zone and giving up the big plays.”

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As Culley emphasized, defensive tackle Maliek Collins’ roughing the passer infraction for tackling diminutive quarterback Kyler Murray around the helmet would have been tough to avoid, if not impossible, considering that Murray ducked and that led to the helmet contact.

“The roughing the passer penalty that Maliek got, there was nothing he could do on the play,” Culley said. “It was a play that I feel like he was just playing football. I guess the body language of what happened with their quarterback made it look like he hit him. He had no choice but to do what he did.”

On defense, the Texans sacked Murray four times, including a safety by defensive end Jacob Martin. However, they also got picked apart by Murray and allowed a 47-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz and a 41-yard sideline throw to A.J. Green. In each case, the Texans’ coverage was far too loose.

The tackling is shoddy at times and there are communication issues in the secondary. Some of that has stemmed from a lot of changes in the secondary, including safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. being benched against the Indianapolis Colts and being replaced by Terrence Brooks. In his return to the starting lineup, Johnson had an interception, his team-high third of the season, on a bad throw by Murray that sailed into his hands. Johnson also was chasing Ertz in vain on the touchdown after safety Justin Reid chucked Ertz at the line and released him to the next level of coverage.

“The question is, ‘Well how do you eliminate the big plays? Why are the big plays happening?’” Culley said. “They are happening sometimes simply because that we’ve had some miscommunication. I go back to the penalties. We got to eliminate those kinds of things. We got to keep working on it. We know what the process is in doing that. We’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to look at what we are doing and how we are teaching it and make sure we get that corrected. But the big plays are a big deal that we have to stop moving forward.”

Tackling is a fundamental issue. It’s very difficult to practice tackling during the season other than getting the proper fit and making sure the pursuit angles are right. Coaches shouldn’t have to coach effort, of course, or intensity, but every team misses tackles. The Texans had 13 missed tackles against Arizona, according to Pro Football Focus analytics with two misses apiece from Johnson, linebacker Christian Kirksey, Martin, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and cornerback Desmond King.

“The next thing is tackling,” Culley said. “We have not tackled very well. Whether it’s on special teams or on defense, we have to be better at tackling. Some of those big plays are happening, we’re having them for short gains, and they are getting big gains because we are missing tackles. Those three things are the big three things moving forward that we’re going to make sure we take care of.”