HOUSTON (AP) — Bernard Pollard is one of the most talkative Texans until the topic turns to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The hard-hitting safety was cut by Kansas City at the end of training camp in 2009, a startling move after Pollard led the team in tackles the previous season. Houston signed Pollard three weeks later, and he helped transform the Texans’ porous defense into one of the league’s best by the end of last season.
A year later, the breakup seems to be working out well for both sides.
The Chiefs (3-1) are off to their best start since 1998, and Pollard has found a comfortable role as a vocal defensive leader for the Texans (3-2).
The teams meet at Reliant Stadium on Sunday, and Pollard is being careful what he says about facing the club he feels disrespected him. He remains close friends with several Chiefs, but his ties to the team abruptly stops there.
“I don’t look back,” Pollard said. “I don’t need to tell them what’s been going on. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to play football. At the end of the day, when I go back to that sideline, I’m going back to that blue. I’m not going back to that red. That door’s been closed. It’s bolted shut.”
The Chiefs drafted Pollard in the second round in 2006, shortly after Herm Edwards became the coach. Kansas City went 6-26 between 2007-08, Edwards was fired and replaced by Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who had never been a head coach.
Haley shied away from revisiting the details of Pollard’s release this week, conceding only that it was “just one of those tough decisions.” He gushed about Pollard, though, calling him “a great personality” and an “athletic, physical and smart football player that plays with passion.”
Pollard bristled when asked to respond to Haley’s comments.
“I don’t care,” he said.
Pollard says he’s more focused this week about shoring up the league’s worst pass defense. The Texans have yielded a 100-yard receiver in four of five games and given up 11 touchdown passes.
Rookie cornerback Kareem Jackson has taken most of the criticism, but every player in the secondary has botched a coverage.
“The big plays are the big stat hurting us,” Pollard said. “We have to be sound. They’re not bringing anybody else in, we’re not making any (roster) moves. It’s up to us to understand that we have to make plays.”
Houston has also struggled to generate a consistent pass rush beyond defensive end Mario Williams, who has five of the team’s nine sacks. The Texans failed to record a sack in losses to Dallas and the New York Giants.
Outside linebacker Brian Cushing, who had four sacks in 2009, made four solo tackles against the Giants last week after completing a four-game suspension. Cushing sat out Wednesday’s practice with a sore knee, but Houston coach Gary Kubiak expects him to move a step closer to his old form this week.
“I think you’re going to only see him get better, but he played pretty darn good (last week),” Kubiak said. “He’s very active and did his job, did his part. Hopefully his body is just reacting to his first time out. Hopefully he’s back fresh by Sunday, but I think you’re gonna see him only get better.”
The Chiefs’ weak passing offense may be just what the Texans need to regain some confidence. Kansas City has not produced an offensive touchdown in two road games and ranks 27th in yards passing (158 per game).
Matt Cassel has been sacked only three times, but ranks 30th in completion percentage (54.7). Haley said he’s judging Cassel more by the Chiefs’ record than his individual statistics.
“The quarterback is as responsible as anybody else in outcome of football games, and the No. 1 thing that I’m looking for in my quarterback is what the final result is,” Haley said.
The Chiefs and Texans will try to establish their top-five running games anyway. Former Texas star Jamaal Charles is averaging 6.5 yards per carry for Kansas City, and Houston’s Arian Foster still leads the NFL in yards rushing, even after the Giants held him to 25 last week.
Both teams rank in the NFL’s top 10 in stopping the run. The Chiefs have held three of four opponents under 100 yards on the ground, and Houston has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in its last 11 games.