- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

HOUSTON (AP) - J.J. Watt isn’t happy with the 3-5 record of the Houston Texans.

Still, the star defensive end can’t help but be encouraged because despite their first-half struggles, they’re tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South.

“You’re sitting here at your bye week, halfway through the year, with everything in front of you,” Watt said.

The Texans regrouped for a win over the Titans last week after an embarrassing blowout loss to Miami in Week 7. Watt said the team had to block out the negativity of what happened in that game to move forward.

“It’s just a matter of not listening to everybody out there who thinks you should be packing it in or thinks it should be over and who has this kind of end of the world mentality,” Watt said. “It’s just a matter of believing in yourselves and we did that all last week, when most people think we shouldn’t have.”

Houston’s problems in the first half of the season largely stemmed from its inconsistency at quarterback. Brian Hoyer won the job out of camp, but was benched during the season opener after a terrible start. Ryan Mallett took over, but he had a tough time as well and Hoyer soon had the job back.

The Texans had to sign T.J. Yates last week after cutting Mallett after he missed the team’s charter flight to play the Dolphins and caught a commercial flight to meet the team in Miami.

After a winding NFL career filled with ups and downs, Hoyer seems undaunted by the challenges he faced in the first half of the season.

“Things didn’t always go the way we wanted them to in the first eight, but we’re in a position to go out and do some really good things in the second half of the season,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be the guy that’s going to be able to do that.”

One player who didn’t seem to be affected by Houston’s quarterback woes is receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The third-year player has stepped into the spotlight this season with Andre Johnson gone to play for the Colts. Hopkins is second in the NFL with 870 yards receiving and his six touchdown catches are tied for second in the league.

“His ball skills are tremendous and he’s learning the offense,” receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “He’s playing multiple positions in the offense, so he knows what everybody’s doing, which helps him a lot. He is just gaining a lot of confidence along the way.”

Hopkins will have to lead the offense in the second half of the season after a season-ending Achilles tendon injury to star running back Arian Foster. Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk will all get carries with Foster gone.

“The runs that we’re trying to get going here … haven’t been very good, so we have to really look at that because we’re going to have to run the ball,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “We have to work to improve that.”

But the offense certainly isn’t the only part of the team that has struggled with Houston’s star-studded offense led by Watt underperforming so far.

The defense is giving up 25.6 points a game and has had trouble getting pressure on quarterbacks at times despite the presence of Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall pick in last year’s draft.

Watt, who was last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, is having another solid season after tying a career high with 20 1/2 sacks last season. He has more sacks through eight games this season (8 1/2) than he did through eight games last season (7).

Clowney has appeared in all but one game this season after playing just four last season because of various injuries before having season-ending microfracture surgery.

The one game he missed this season was because of an ankle injury, but he sat out most of Houston’s previous game after injuring his back and it’s unclear if he’ll be healthy after the bye.

Despite that setback, the Texans have been encouraged by his progress and expect him to help the defense improve after the break.

Clowney, who has said there are times when he still feels like a rookie because he missed so much time last season, was a defensive end in college, but is an outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 scheme.

“When he has been healthy and when he has been able to work for us, he works,” linebackers coach Mike Vrabel said. “I think we just have to continue to show him what it is to be a 3-4 outside linebacker, show him what we want, teach him what we want from an end. There are certain packages that he’s an end and there are certain packages where he is an outside linebacker.”

The Texans open the second half of the season on Monday, Nov. 16 at Cincinnati.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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