*Here are Five Things to Watch over the final seven games of the season for the Houston Texans.
1. Mallett in motion: Head coach Bill O'Brien made a switch at quarterback on Wednesday, replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick with Ryan Mallett. The former helped lead the Texans to a 4-5 record, and the latter will now start for the first time as a professional. The body of work for Fitzpatrick, prior to this season was fairly voluminous. He'd spent nine years in the NFL, and started 79 games.
With Mallett, he's thrown a total of four passes in mop up duty with the Patriots. But that inexperience doesn't bother O'Brien.
"You've got to start somewhere," O'Brien said. "He's been a pro for four years. It's his turn to get a shot and let's see how he does."
Mallett's first bit of action comes in Week 11 at Cleveland. He'll face a Browns defense that's currently eighth in the NFL in points allowed per game with 21.1. They're the
18th-best passing defense, giving up 252.1 yards per contest, and tied for 10th in the NFL with 13 takeaways this year. His focus over the break is limited to lifting weights, watching film and figuring out a way to beat the Browns.
"I'm just trying to get a win against the Cleveland Browns," Mallett said. "I've got two weeks to prepare and I'm going to do the best that I can to leave no stone unturned, and try to get a win."
After Cleveland, the Texans host the Bengals and Titans in successive weeks before finishing their road schedule with trips to Jacksonville and Indianapolis.
2. Clowney Comeback: The first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has played less than a game and
a half of football this season. Jadeveon Clowney injured his knee in Week 1 against Washington, and he had surgery in the days following that win. He returned to action and played 52% of the snaps in the victory at Tennessee, but sat out the loss to the Eagles because of knee soreness and an illness.
Clowney said he hopes to play against Cleveland.
"That's what we're working toward right now," Clowney said. "I don't know for right now but we're taking it one day at a time. I'm just trying to get better and get back out there."
Whenever he does get back on the field, at a minimum he draws attention from blockers. At times against the Titans he drew double-teams, and also caused a few Tennessee penalties.
If he can play to the form he flashed in the first two preseason games, he'll be a disruptive pass-rushing force that will complement J.J. Watt very nicely. But he said his knee isn't ready quite yet.
"There are certain things that are going on with my knee still," Clowney said. "We just haven't got where we wanted to be. Now we're just taking a step back and trying to get it to where we need it be so I can play."
3. Toxic Differential: The Texans lead the NFL with 21 takeaways this season. That's a staggering
difference from the 2013 squad, which finished with just 11 the entire year. But unfortunately, it hasn't translated to a better record.
Last week, former Baltimore head coach and current NFL Network/NFL.com analyst Brian Billick wrote an interesting story about the "Toxic Differential" statistic. It essentially takes the turover margin, which is takeaways minus giveaways, and adds that to the Big Play differential. The Big Play differential is the pass plays of 25+ yards surrendered by the team minus the pass plays of 25+ yards that the team gained. Also, runs of 10+ yards given up are subtracted from gains on the ground of 10 or more yards. Those run/pass play totals are added up and they make the Big Play Differential.
The Texans went into the Philadelphia game ranked fourth in the NFL in Toxic Differential with a +12 margin. After the Eagles' game, the Texans fell to 14th with a +4 number in that category. Billick wrote that on average, nine or 10 of the 12 playoff teams each year are in the Top 10 in the Toxic Differential category.
4. Watt a Season: Watt's been magnificent through the first nine games. He leads the NFL in quarterback hits with 29. Nobody beside him had that many ALL of last season, and he finished with 46 in 2013.
But on top of that, and the 8.5 sacks he's rung up, and the 11 tackles for loss and seven batted passes, Watt has scored three times.
He intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against the Bills, scooped up a fumble and rumbled for a touchdown against the Colts, and caught a 1-yard pass for a score when he played tight end on the goal line in the win at Oakland.
Game-by-game, he's battered opposing quarterbacks and befuddled blockers. He's routinely held, tripped, and tackled, but doesn't always get the calls.
It would be interesting to see what some help in the form of a return by Clowney would do for Watt and the defense.
- Foster success**: Arian Foster's brilliant 2014 hit a speed bump on Sunday against Philadelphia when he left the game with a groin injury. Prior to that, he amassed 119 yards from scrimmage, and also caught his third touchdown of the season.
He's second in the League with 822 rushing yards, and he's scored 10 touchdowns on the ground and through the air. At 5.11 yards per carry, he's been outstanding in the O'Brien offense. Whether or not he plays at Cleveland remains to be seen, but he's hopeful.
"That's the plan," Foster said.