The Texans (3-7) face the Lions (4-6) in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. It's the second time the two squads have played on the holiday, and it's the fifth meeting between the franchises. Houston's won the last three. Here are five things to watch after the kickoff at 11:30 a.m. CT inside Ford Field. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) To run, or not to run… – Last Sunday against New England, the Texans running backs ran the ball a combined 13 times for 19 yards. Duke Johnson got the lion's share of those carries, finishing with 15 yards on 10 carries. C.J. Prosise was the only other back to get carries on the day. Deshaun Watson scrambled six times for 36 yards.
Watson was terrific through the air though, completing over 75 percent of his passes for 344 yards, with a pair of touchdowns. But just because he was so efficiently explosive throwing, don't expect the Texans to completely give up on running the ball.
"I think that's a death wish if you do that," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "When you're going against players that – think about trying to block a guy like J.J. Watt 70 times a game and he knows you're throwing the ball 70 times a game. You've got no shot. I don't care who you are. Those players are too dynamic, they're too good to not have to worry about playing multiple games."
Watson was able to push the ball down the field, finishing with seven completions of 20 yards or more. Even though the Texans struggled to get yardage via the run, Watson offset that by completing 11 completions of between two and six yards.
"We're going to continue to try to attack defenses on different levels, in different areas," Kelly said. "It's no secret that we'd like to have better results in terms of our rushing statistics, but at the end of the day the most important thing is that we win. Last week we were able to go out there and get a win and hopefully we can keep that momentum moving forward."
2) Deep thoughts – As mentioned above, Watson was able to pick up chunk plays through the air. After his seven passes that went for 20-plus yards Sunday, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week is tied for third in the NFL in completions of 20 yards or more. Nine different Texans have caught a pass for 20 yards or more, and Brandin Cooks has 11 of those, while Will Fuller V has 10.
"We always want to take our shots downfield and connect with those," Watson said. "I feel comfortable and confident with those throws and I have the weapons and receivers that can track the ball and make plays downfield. The opportunities should come up a little bit more and we've got to take advantage of that."
Only three teams in the NFL are giving up more points per game than the Lions at 28.7, and they're in the bottom quarter of the League by allowing 258.4 passing yards per contest. Detroit head coach Matt Patricia explained the challenge Watson and company present for his defense.
"I think with the speed that they added – obviously Fuller who was there – but Brandin Cooks is another guy that I know really well and his speed to go vertical, it just creates obviously the big play ability downfield," Patricia said. "But also that intermediate route area between trying to stay close to the line of scrimmage to defend against the quarterback and then obviously deep shots. There's a lot of space in between that they really put the defense in a bind with."
3) All hands on deck – On Wednesday the Texans announced a slew of players won't make the trip to Detroit for the game. Receivers Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb are out. So too are fullback Cullen Gillaspia and defensive tackle P.J. Hall.
It's likely the Texans bring up a practice squad receiver like Steven Mitchell or Chad Hansen, to join the quartet of available ones on the roster in Fuller, Cooks, Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter.
With quarterback Josh McCown also not traveling, the inactives list for the game is all but set.
Coutee, after getting and making the most of his opportunity on Sunday in the win over the Patriots, should figure again heavily into the gameplan. Coutee caught a touchdown pass, finished with another reception as well, and returned punts.
"He's a guy I'm looking forward to have a big rest of the season each and every game and just continue to build his confidence," Watson said. "He knows that whenever he's out there on that field he has the ability to get the ball with me playing quarterback. He's just got to play fast and continue to do what he do. We know as a team and as an organization and as an offense that's what he's going to do."
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel agrees.
"He knew that he was going to get an opportunity at some point, and he got it and he took advantage of it," Crennel. "I think that now he'll try to hold on to it."
4) Stifle Stafford – Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offense is coming off a tough outing. The Panthers kept them out of the end zone and off the scoreboard in Sunday's 20-0 loss. Stafford completed just over 54 percent of his passes in that one, and on the season he's completed 62.8 percent of his passes. Nevertheless, the Texans are wary of his capabilities.
"I think you've got to take that tape with a grain of salt," defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver said of the loss at Carolina. "They were missing some very key pieces. You talk about (D'Andre) Swift, (Kenny) Golladay – two dynamic players. (Danny) Amendola I don't think played in that game. So, again, we know what they're capable of. They've put up multiple 30-point games this season and we're expecting their absolute best, particularly in that venue on a Turkey Day situation where they're trying to thrive and play well in front of their home crowd."
Crennel said the Texans must be able to defend against the deep passes from Stafford.
"He can make all the throws and he's not afraid to throw it vertically down the field," Crennel said. "A lot of their routes are vertical routes and so we're going to have to do a good job of trying to pressure him, first of all. I think that's where it starts."
5) Keep up against the run – Houston turned in a fine performance defending the run versus New England, limiting the Pats to just 3.6 yards per carry. Continuing that against Adrian Peterson and the Lions could help the defense tee off on Stafford if he's forced into obvious throwing situations. Detroit is near the bottom of the NFL in running the ball, getting just 95.4 yards per game as a team.
Even though Peterson hasn't gained over 40 yards in a game since September, defensive end J.J. Watt still respects what the veteran can do.
"He's a legend of the game, obviously," Watt said. "One of the best to ever do it. He's been doing it so well for a very long time. Guys have a lot of respect for him. I have a lot of respect for him. For him to be able to still play at the level he's playing at is exceptional. I do look forward to the opportunity."