The Texans (2-0) conclude their preseason on Saturday night with a home contest against the Buccaneers (1-1). Here are five things to watch when Houston squares off with the reigning Super Bowl champs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside NRG Stadium.
1) 1's vs. 1's – If you listen to Texans Head Coach David Culley, as well as Tampa Bay Head Coach Bruce Arians, the starters on both sides, will play extensively. With 15 days until the regular-season opener versus Jacksonville, Culley wants one final tune-up.
"It is important for us to also take those guys, who hadn't played a whole bunch this preseason, to be able to get them at least through a half and maybe the start of the third quarter to where they at least know what it feels like to go through at least a half and a quarter, coming out for halftime adjustments," Culley said. "And we'll try to do that."
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, will also see quite a bit of work from Quarterback Tom Brady and company. The Tampa Bay starters, for the most part, didn't play last Saturday against the Titans. They played sparingly in the preseason opener against Cincinnati. They'll open their season on September 9 at home against the Cowboys.
"We're going so long before we play," Arians said. "I mean, we can't go against Dallas, who is really good, and all of a sudden play game speed. We better have some game speed under our belt before we show up against the Cowboys."
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was on the field for 10 snaps at Green Bay, and then 13 snaps last week in Arlington. That number will rise this week.
2) RB rotation – Houston got a first look at Mark Ingram in a Texans uniform last Saturday in Arlington. The veteran running back carried seven times for 24 yards and capped off the first offensive drive with a touchdown.
Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Scottie Phillips and Buddy Howell are also competing at the position. Two and maybe three of those six backs will be cut on Tuesday when the roster's trimmed down to 53. Whoever makes it, will be part of a stable of runners Houston plans to deploy during the regular season.
"Ideally, you want to be able to run the ball to win the game at the end," Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly said. "So, what that allows us to do is when we get in those situations, we are able to have fresh backs with fresh legs come in there and continue to keep throwing different looks at those guys. Like I said, we are very lucky to have those backs, the type of players, the type of men they are, they are doing a great job leading not only that room but being strong voices in the offensive room."
3) O-line test – The offensive line combinations will be interesting to monitor on Saturday. Houston will be without Pro Bowl Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil again, as he continues to come back from COVID-19. Marcus Cannon and Lane Taylor, two veterans the Texans added this offseason, remain on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and won't play either.
In their absence, the starting line last week was, left to right, Geron Christian at tackle, Tytus Howard at guard, Justin Britt at center, Max Scharping at guard and Charlie Heck at tackle.
Two weeks ago against the Packers, Justin McCray started in Howard's place. Even though it's a preseason game, Britt explained the Texans approach.
"This game isn't taken lightly and however long we play, we play and we do it to the best of our ability," Britt said. "This is a very important game. Any time they take score, anytime you get to go out there, it's a championship opportunity to play your ball and yeah it's a big moment."
Culley has a few key points he wants the line and the offense as a whole, to improve.
"Handling the blitz better and also the third downs," Culley said. "Basically, as we went back and looked at the video on that, it was mental errors that we had. It had nothing to do with them blitzing us more than what we had seen. Again, on the third downs, it wasn't always the blitz that got us. It was the fact that we had some mental errors, which we've worked on this week to make sure that doesn't happen."
4) More takeaways – Defensively, the Texans will face Brady and a potent Tampa Bay offense. Defensive Back Justin Reid is excited about the challenge facing him and his secondary mates.
"This is the best test you can have," Reid said. "I mean we're going against the defending Super Bowl champs, Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, so this is the people you want to play. I still have yet to pick him off, even though I should have. I wish I could have some of those back, so this will be a fun game to play against him."
The Texans have picked off four passes this preseason, one in Green Bay and three last Saturday at Dallas. Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith has focused on the need for more takeaways and with seven total through the first couple games, Defensive Back Desmond King thinks the Texans can sustain it.
"The more you do it, the more it's going to come," King said. "Like they say, the turnovers, they come in bunches. Once you get one, once you get two, they're just going to keep rolling in. You've just got to seize the opportunity whenever the ball is in the air and go get it."
5) D-front depth – The defensive front has performed admirably this preseason, from the front line players to the lower rungs of the depth chart. Houston was able to log five sacks, nine quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss in the win over the Cowboys.
Culley is all about having quality depth on the defensive front.
"It all goes back to having fresh guys up front especially with those four linemen that we're playing, the three linebackers," Culley said. "It helps to have fresh guys and we've been fortunate because of our depth to be able to rotate those guys in and out. And we've basically been rotating them in and out not as a first group or second group, but as, 'Ok, these are the guys that are in this series, these are the guys that are in this series.'"