The Texans (1-6-1) hit the road for a Week 10 matchup with the Giants (6-2) at MetLife Stadium. It's the sixth meeting between the franchises, and Houston's seeking a win over New York for the first time since 2002. Here are five things to watch when the two squads kick off at noon CT.
1) What have you done for me, lately?
If you remove the win over Jacksonville, Houston's been outscored 69-17 in the fourth quarter of the other seven games in 2022. In five of those contests they couldn't muster any points, while the opposition put up a combined 59 points.
The Giants, meanwhile, have been excellent in the fourth quarter. They've outscored opponents a combined 61-36, and the only times they've lost have been when the Cowboys and Seahawks scored more in the fourth.
The Texans have to get better in the late stage of a game.
"We have to finish," Head coach Lovie Smith said. "We've got to get it in the end zone. It's as simple as that. We had our moments, but just playing good, consistent ball and finishing the right way, we haven't made it there yet. We'll start seeing more W's once we're able to get that taken care of."
Defensive Back Tavierre Thomas echoed the head coach.
"I feel like we just need to finish," Thomas said. "We start games strong. We start fast. Lovie preaches start fast and finish."
It's one thing to say it. Thomas explained what he and his teammates need to do make stronger finishes a reality.
"Like in the first half we were doing our job cleaner than the second half," Thomas said. "So if we continue to just go out there and do our job, really do your job, stay in your gap, read your keys and run to the football, I feel like we will get over the hump."
2) Beat the blitz
The Texans know the Giants like to blitz. According to Next Gen Stats, under Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, New York has sent an extra pass-rusher 42.9 percent of the time when other teams throw the ball.
"They're going to blitz more than any team we're going to play all year, but we realize that too," Smith said. "Of course, Wink has been a great defensive coordinator in the league for a long period of time, and you've got to look forward to that challenge. You kind of know what the coverage will be most of the time, you know what's coming at you, it's not going to be a whole lot of surprises, there's different blitzes you can get."
Quarterback Davis Mills is prepared for it.
"They like to bring a lot of pressure," Mills said. "We'll be ready for it. It kind of comes in any scenario. First, we've got to be able to run the ball. If we catch them on a pressure and gash them on a run, that could be a big play."
3) Speaking of the run
RB Dameon Pierce has 678 rushing yards this season, and he's coming off a career-best 27 carries for 139 yards. He's averaging 4.6 yards per rush attempt, and the Texans as a team were good for just 3.4 yards per carry in 2021. Pierce has been a major upgrade for the ground attack, and Martindale sang the rookie's praises earlier this week in New Jersey, comparing Pierce to Hall of Famer/Houston sports legend Earl Campbell, as well as former Pro Bowler Jamal Lewis.
"I don't know who said something to him or did something to him to make him so angry, but that might be the angriest runner in the league," Martindale said. "He's one of those big power backs that has great balance. Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet."
Pierce routinely credits the blocking from his offensive line as the key to his success, but the big guys up front are quick to praise the young back as well.
"He makes our job easy," Offensive Lineman A.J. Cann said. "We know he might make a few cats miss, but if we get a hat on a hat, he's going to find a hole and make a big positive play, strong running."
Pierce, according to Next Gen Stats, has gained 637 (94 percent) of his yards after contact.
4) Barkley's a bad man
The Giants ground game is led by RB Saquon Barkley, who's on pace to pick up 1,655 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. His 28 catches out of the backfield have gone for an average of 6.8 yards per catch. According to Defensive Line Coach Jacques Cesaire, the Texans' hands will be full with such a dynamic offensive weapon.
'We all know what the challenge ahead of is," Cesaire said. "We've got to step it up a little bit more and focus on doing our job. Get ready to get down and dirty and play good physical run defense."
Giants Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka, though, stressed how important it was for the rest of the New York offense to step up also.
"Saquon is a good part of our offense, he does a lot of things for us in the pass game, protection, in the run game, but there's a lot of other players too," Kafka said. "It's an 11-man operation on offense. It can't just be one guy, everyone is a part of it, including the coaches putting everyone in a good spot to be successful."
5) Important returns
After they weren't on the field against the Eagles, the Texans will likely see the return of WRs Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, along with Defensive Lineman Maliek Collins. The defender has been called "the engine" of the Texans defense by Smith, and the head coach was glad to see him back at practice this week.
"It all kind of starts with, most defenses, interior guys, the closest ones to the quarterback," Smith said. "To be able to get Maliek back is big for us. We missed him an awful lot."
In six of the last seven seasons, Cooks has logged 1,000 receiving yards or more. Collins, meanwhile, was blossoming in his second NFL season, averaging 16.9 yards per reception. Their return is a welcome sight to Mills.
"So excited for those guys," Mills said. "Obviously, both are extremely explosive, know the offense really well, and we have a lot of chemistry built up from the time we've had on tasks. I'm excited for both of those guys to get back into the flow of things."
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