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Rex Ryan refuses to crown the Texans: Wade Phillips' defense challenged to show more on MNF

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Brian Cushing Texans Titans
The Texans defense is No. 1 in the NFL in several categories, but Rex Ryan isn't ready to declare them anything close to historic. Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com
Danieal Manning Texans
Danieal Manning played for the Bears, the franchise with arguably the most historic defense of all, and he feels like these 2012 Texans have a chance to shoot for greatness. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
J.J. Watt rushing Titans
The Houston Texans defense is relentless in going after opponents. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CultureMapSNAP.com
Wade Phillips Texans sideline
Wade Phillips tells his defensive players that they can have their fun on gamedays. Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com
Brian Cushing Texans Titans
Danieal Manning Texans
J.J. Watt rushing Titans
Wade Phillips Texans sideline
Rex Ryan
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rex Ryan pauses when asked if the Houston Texans defense reminds him of any of the great defenses he’s been around. The New York Jets coach sees himself as one of the gatekeepers of NFL defensive lore and for all the nice things he’ll say about J.J. Watt, he is clearly not ready to put Wade Phillips’ Bulls On Parade in any type of rarefied air.

"I’ve been around some great ones," Ryan says. "Obviously I was around the 2000 Ravens defense. That was built a little differently. That was with two giant tackles and obviously Ray Lewis in the middle of things.

"(The Texans) are built different, but it’s certainly an excellent defense . . . Time will tell if it can be a historic defense or not."

Ryan  wouldn’t just place his Super Bowl-grabbing Ravens D far ahead of these 2012 Texans. He’d likely put the Jets defenses that pushed Mark Sanchez into two straight  AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010 above them too.

 “We’ve got to play for ourselves though, not to go out there and prove something to Rex Ryan.” 

And probably many, many more.

If the Texans want more respect from the big man with the New York bully pulpit, they’ll have to take it on Monday Night Football. And keep taking right through the Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3.

"We know we’re one of the best, if not the best in the NFL today," Texans safety Danieal Manning says. "There are a lot of great defenses that have been out there, but we feel we can be right up there with them.

"We’ve got to play for ourselves though, not to go out there and prove something to Rex Ryan."

This Texans defense — the driving force of a 4-0 team that’s dominating like no other squad in the NFL this year (the only other undefeated team, Atlanta, needed to pull out its second straight close game on Sunday) — is hunting larger prey than Rex Ryan, a 5-0 start or the national TV spotlight of this MNF showcase.

“We do feel like we have the chance to be a historic defense when all is said and done,” Manning says.

The vocal leader of the Texans’ secondary knows something about chasing history. Manning played for the Chicago Bears, a franchise that remains in constant awe of its 1985 defense. Many longtime football observers think those ’85 Bears boosted the best defense of all time.

Those Bears dominated while showing outsized personalities — playing large and living larger, which only made Manning more driven to put them in the past.

“It’s funny, when I played in Chicago, we always heard about the ’85 Bears,” he says. “We thought it was sort of  old school, people wanting to live in the past.

“Don’t get me wrong, they had a great defense, but we wanted to create a legacy of our own.”

One of Manning’s Bears teams made it all the way to the Super Bowl. But they lost to Peyton Manning and the Colts in a rainy game in Miami.

And then they never made it back. That’s the thing about trying to become a historic defense. The standards are beyond ruthless and you’d better grab every chance.

What gives the Bulls on Parade a fighting opportunity is peer pressure. The talent comes first of course. Without game changers like Watt, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed in the front seven and Manning and all-world cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the secondary, nothing else would matter.

 If the Texans want more respect from the big man with the New York bully pulpit, they’ll have to take it on Monday Night Football.  

But it takes more than a rare collection of talent to go historic. On the ledger of legends, accountability rules.

“There’s great peer pressure on this defense,” Manning says. “You don’t want to let the other guy down, so you study harder.

“When players see other guys going over extra film, they feel like they need to watch extra film. It all builds on itself.

“You don’t want to be the one guy who’s not going above and beyond on this defense because you’ll hear about it. We hold each other accountable.”

The Fuel

Manning believes that collective drive comes from how ridiculed the holdovers from that no-amount-of-time-is-too-little-to-blow-a-lead 2010 defense felt, in how doubted the defense was heading into last season even with Phillips, Joseph and Manning in the building.

 “We do feel like we have the chance to be a historic defense when all is said and done,” Manning says. 

“This group has been through some pretty heavy fire,” Manning says. “When you get to the good times after that, you’ll do anything to make them last.

“I think that’s why this is maybe the closest defense I’ve ever been on.”

The Texans head into the Monday night at Met Life Stadium as the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense in points allowed (14.0 per game) and yards given up (273 per game) while forcing nine turnovers in four games. They know where they stand.

If the Rex Ryans of the world don't fully see what they are yet . . . so be it. If everyone is suddenly talking about what the Bears defense did to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday . . . so be it.

"The coaches and players around the league who watch a lot of film know what we are as a defense," Joseph says.

Joseph lockers right next to Manning and he cannot help but break into a conversation about historic defenses.

"The people who count in this league all respect us," Joseph says.

Manning nods his head, one professor of defense listening to a dissertation from another. Almost time to go back to work, the Bulls' favorite time.

"The great thing about this defense is that we're very workmanlike all week," Manning says. "We work hard and put our time in.

"Then we have our fun on Sundays. That's what Wade tells us. You have your fun on Sundays. Or Mondays. We can't wait to get to the games. That's our time."

That's how you become all time.

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