HOUSTON -- Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre is aware of what he needs to: improve his tackling.
The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year missed a key open-field tackle in a road loss last Sunday to the New York Giants on a 54-yard touchdown pass as wide receiver Darius Slayton eluded his grasp. Pitre was briefly benched and replaced by veteran Eric Murray, but went back in the game and has retained his starting job.
The biggest thing Pitre needs to improve is his tackling fundamentals. The second-round draft pick from Baylor has missed a team-high 21 tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, experiencing some growing pains.
"It's just learning opportunities, a couple bad angles that led to missed tackles," Pitre said Friday inside the Texans' locker room. "You know, just trying to learn from it and just trying to improve for the future."
Pitre has missed 25.0 percent of his tackle attempts, ranking him second worst among all eligible safeties, according to Pro Football Focus. While Pitre has also recorded two interceptions sack, a fumble recovery and 63 tackles to rank third on the Texans' beleaguered defense, they need more efficiency from him.
"It's all about perspective," Pitre said. "Like you said, I've made a couple good plays. I'm trying to remember those as I remember the bad ones. I'm definitely trying to stay positive and keep the mindset that I am playing in the NFL. This is a blessing. Not everybody gets to do this. Just keeping that mindset.
"I just got to make more plays, maximize my opportunities and continue to have fun. I'm blessed to be at this stage playing football."
Sunday's game against the Washington Commanders represents a difficult challenge against a talented receiving corps headlined by Terry McLaurin.
"They have a great offense, great receivers and great backs," Pitre said. "It's a good challenge for us that we're looking forward to."
One area that Pitre can improve upon: making a safer tackle instead of going for the biggest play possible.
As noted by Smith, help never arrived for Pitre on the missed tackle on Slayton, who gained 51 yards after the catch on his touchdown pass thrown by Daniel Jones. Slayton outraced linebackers Blake Cashman and Christian Harris and defensive backs Steven Nelson and Jonathan Owens to reach the end zone.
“There has to be a correctable thing, because Jalen will be the first guy to tell you he’s missed too many tackles," Smith said. "He’s too good of a football player. There are some things that can happen in that situation. First off, we had a blitz zone, man coverage, he was guarding the slot guy. It was too far off of him first, too much space in between. As a defender, there are some positions you’re put in where maybe it’s zone coverage, and we have guys take a shot on their leverage side because they know they have their teammate there.
And,yes, as coaches we’re always doing that.
When you deal with young players, there’s going to be moments like that. You want the moments to be just less and less each week and hopefully now that we’re in the second half of the season that that will be the case.”
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