As cross-conference foes, the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals don't see each other very often. In fact, before the Texans' 21-16 victory in Houston on Sunday, the two teams had only played each other a total of five times.
For first-year Texans coach DeMeco Ryans, though, the Cardinals are a very familiar foe.
Before coming to Houston this offseason, Ryans saw Arizona twice a year as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. As such, he had plenty of experience in defending Kyler Murray and co., and it showed as the Texans held the Cardinals to 319 total yards while forcing two turnovers.
With Ryans bringing his scheme with him to Houston, it made the defense's job much easier on Sunday, as rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr. explains.
“It helped us a lot because we’ve seen a lot of things,” Anderson said. “Of course, we run the same defense, so we’ve seen a lot of things like, ‘Oh, ok, this is what they did here.’ We’re going to try to go out there and do it differently this time since we run the same defense, and we know what they did last time. It was really fun to see.”
As a dual-threat quarterback, Murray is at his most dangerous when he can use his legs effectively. The former No. 1 pick did some damage on the ground, rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, but for the most part, the Texans did a good job of containing him.
“I thought we did a really good job of containing most of the game,” Anderson said. “I thought we rushed as a group. I think that’s one big thing that we always want to focus on is all four guys rushing as one and having a good time and having fun doing it. I think everybody was very selfless and rushing today and knowing what we were up against.”
So far, Ryans, the fourth-youngest coach in the NFL at 38 years old, has looked like a home-run hire for the Texans, the same team he began his playing career with. The former linebacker has already led Houston to its best season since 2019, and there's still seven games to go. Ryans' work is reflected in the fact that he currently has the second-best odds to win Coach of the Year at +350, only trailing Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions at +150.
At 6-4, the once-downtrodden Texans are in the thick of the playoff race and hold the sixth seed in the AFC. With a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Texans can even take over first place in the AFC South.