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Antonio Smith: Healthy Texans defense is NFL's best

Antonio Smith is a realist. The Houston Texans defensive end admits injuries have taken a toll on a once-dominant defense.

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"In my opinion, my defense, at its best -- a healthy 'Bulls on Parade' -- is the best defense, to me," Smith told "NFL AM" on Friday. "We was the best defense before everybody started dropping out. But football is football, and you got to keep playing it whether you got all your players or not. The stats tell it, nobody don't want to believe it, but for, I think, what, nine weeks, eight weeks in the season, we was the best defense."

Injuries have become a weighty narrative for the Texans down the stretch. Losing Brian Cushing for the year left Houston without its only linebacker who truly excelled in pass coverage. Fellow linebackers Bradie James and Brooks Reed have missed time, leaving the unit in shambles. The secondary has gone without Johnathan Joseph and Alan Ball for stretches, and opposing quarterbacks have flamed the reserves.

"Right now, we just need to jell in who we are," Smith said. "No matter who we got out there on the field, it's gotta be the next man up. Whoever comes out there got to ball if we going to be the No. 1 defense. That is our goal, that's what we shoot for, so no matter what is going on, we got to do that."

A year ago, the upstart Texans lost Matt Schaub for the playoffs. A rookie quarterback -- T.J. Yates -- stepped in and played admirably, but the Texans were a team on borrowed time without their leader.

Role players and reserves have stepped up in recent weeks for the Texans, but coordinator Wade Phillips has struggled to keep his defense afloat. They're still sixth in the NFL, but quarterbacks are having their way. A wildly successful season is in peril if the defense doesn't come together.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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