Blake Cashman, Denzel Perryman and Will Anderson Jr. must lead Houston Texans' front seven in Week 9

Houston Texans v Atlanta Falcons
Houston Texans v Atlanta Falcons / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Reserving a seat in the conference playoff bracket is a challenge. It requires consistent effort from every member of the franchise. Poor performances and an abundance of mistakes hurt teams in the final weeks of the season. Matt Burke understands correction is vital for longevity. He must strengthen his defense if the Houston Texans plan on extending their season.

A Week 9 duel against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a perfect barometer for Burke's unit. How will they perform in a must-win situation?

Houston Texans: Matt Burke's defense must hold the Buccaneers to limited points

A winning record at the midway point is a beautiful sight for Texans fans. It's been years since the franchise experienced positive morale. C.J. Stroud is the catalyst for the uplifting vibes surrounding the locker room. The rookie is performing well enough to erase the painful memories of the past. Seasoned fans remember them vividly. A loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 8 was a discomforting scene for a supportive fanbase. It brought back memories many were hoping to forget.

Protecting the endzone is an issue for Matt Burke's unit. They are tied third in points allowed (128) heading into Week 9. Houston has allowed 20+ points in six of their seven games this year (86%). Contributions from their rookie quarterback hide the ugly truth of Houston's defense. DeMeco Ryans' group suffers when C.J. Stroud underperforms. Losses against the New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, and Jacksonville Jaguars exposed weaknesses in Houston's scheme. The rookie needs reassurance from his defense when he's unable to put points on the board.

Baker Mayfield is determined to capture a win on Sunday. He's played well throughout the season and desires to improve. The former first-round pick ranks 13th in passing touchdowns (10) and 16th in completions (158). A stout performance will end a three-game losing streak for Todd Bowle's unit. Steven Nelson (77) and Shaquille Griffin (59.9) will have their hands full this weekend. They must eliminate Chris Godwin and Mike Evans to keep points off the scoreboard.

Houston Texans: Maliek Collins and Kurt Hinish must have their best game of the year

Preparing to defend a talented wide receiver duo is only part of the preparation for Sunday. We expect the Buccaneers to utilize their All-Pro X-Factors, but there are other elements to Sunday's exhibition. Defeating blocks at the line of scrimmage is an issue for Burke's interior. They rank 28th in run defense (54.7) and 26th in pass rush (66.8). Four of Houston's seven opponents rushed for 100+ yards this season. Rachaad White will attempt to take advantage of an unproductive front seven in Week 9. He's struggled to earn rushing yards (305) and hopes to redeem himself.

Maliek Collins and Kurt Hinish are X-Factors to watch on Sunday. They've performed poorly this season and need a resurgence to reassure their peers. Houston's interior linemen rank within the top ten in run snaps on the roster. Their presence is non-existent - ranking Collins (33.8) and Hinish (36.9) in the bottom half of Houston's run grading rankings.

Assistance from role players will help Matt Burke upstage Dave Canales' offense. Blake Cashman (85.8), Denzel Perryman (78.2), and Will Anderson Jr (77.1) are earning reps against the run. They will play an important role in Sunday's matchup. Pressure from interior linemen would be nice, but not guaranteed.

Securing a win at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will help DeMeco Ryans' group get back on track. They let a win slip through their fingers last weekend. The Houston Texans cannot afford to experience the same result.

All stats courtesy