The Texans (2-7) return home for a Week 11 showdown with the Patriots (4-5). Houston won last year's matchup, 28-22, in Week 13 at NRG Stadium. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at Noon CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Return to form – Before last Sunday's loss in the wind and rain at Cleveland, Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense was rolling. Even after scoring just seven points against the Browns, the Texans are still second in the AFC in yards per play this season at 6.03. Watson's been able to hit chunk plays with regular success, as he's found Brandin Cooks for nine completions of 20 yards or more, and Will Fuller V for eight completions of 20 yards or more.
"He really creates more problems when he extends plays and gives these receivers a chance to get open, and extend the play and then he can hit them for big plays," New England head coach Bill Belichick said. "Obviously, he's a dangerous runner and he can pick up first downs and chew up the yardage that way."
Watson is thankful for also having Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills to throw to, but described the benefit of having a duo like Fuller and Cooks.
"It's good to have those two guys out there," Watson said. "Speed and very disciplined and understand football and what we want to do as a whole on each and every play. It's been good."
Fuller has four games this season with 100 or more receiving yards, and that's the second-best mark in the NFL. He's also caught six touchdowns.
2) Roster shuffling? – Because of an illness, Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil is listed as questionable for the game after not practicing at all this week. Safety and special teams standout Michael Thomas has been ruled out because of a shoulder injury. Punter Bryan Anger was limited in practiced and listed as questionable. Interim head coach Romeo Crennel held out hope Tunsil might be available on Sunday.
"He's been under the weather," Crennel said. "We'll find out today how much improvement he's made and then we'll be able to make some determinations from that point."
Tunsil made his first Pro Bowl in 2019, and missed the London win over the Jaguars, as well as the Week 17 loss at home to Tennessee. The former was due to injury, while the latter was merely a rest game because the Texans had already clinched the AFC South.
Roderick Johnson has started at right tackle in the past, and also played some left tackle as well. Right tackle Tytus Howard started some at left tackle in college.
3) Martin's back – After missing the last two games, outside linebacker Jacob Martin is off the COVID-19 list. He has a pair of sacks this season, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 11 total tackles. His return gives the Texans another edge rusher, after seeing situations over the last few weeks where a combination of Martin, Whitney Mercilus and Brennan Scarlett missed time. But Martin doesn't just provide depth, according to interim head coach Romeo Crennel.
"We know that in sub situations that he is a pass rusher that has to be dealt with," Crennel said. "I think that his role will continue to be what it's been and then maybe more pass rush opportunities."
Martin tallied 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits in last year's win over the Patriots.
4) Cam's the Man – Patriots quarterback Cam Newton has started eight games this year for New England, the Patriots are an even 4-4 in those contests. He's tossed three touchdowns and been picked off seven times, but he's rushed for nine scores. A truly unique quarterback, the 2015 NFL MVP has the utmost respect from the Texans.
Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver sees a few similarities in the 2020 Patriots offense, to the one they ran in 2016 when Jacoby Brissett filled in for Tom Brady.
"I give their coaching staff credit for adjusting," Weaver said. "But they're very similar to the game plan they used when they had Jacoby Brissett back there. When you go back and watch some of those games, just like you watch the game we played against them in '16, some of those same plays are showing up that they're doing with Cam."
Newton is a rugged runner, and tough to bring down when he uses his legs. Linebacker Zach Cunningham said it'll take a group effort when he's takes off and runs.
"Everybody gang tackling," Cunningham said. "He's obviously made a name for himself running the ball as a quarterback. I think it's going to take everybody doing their job, everybody getting around the ball."
5) The stable – As impressive as Newton is on the ground, the Patriots have been effective on the ground as a team in 2020. They're averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and their lead back Damien Harris has been good for 5.5 yards a pop this season. Crennel explained what makes Harris unique.
"He runs downhill," Crennel said. "He runs with effort. He breaks tackles. He's one guy that you have to tackle. You just can't wish him down. Depending on who's doing the tackling, you might have to have more than one guy there to get him down."
Further, the Patriots also utilize Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel in the ground game.
"That stable of backs that he's got, he's using them to his best advantage," Crennel said. "That makes the running game more difficult that the quarterback can run, and I think these offensive linemen that they've got, they're doing a pretty decent job of getting on people and cutting people off to create space for the runner."