The Texans (1-5) travel west to face the Cardinals (6-0) in Week 7. This is the first meeting between the teams since November of 2017. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at 3:25 p.m. CT inside State Farm Stadium.
1) Clean It Up – It's been crystal clear this season for the Texans: when they don't turn the ball over, they're in every game. When they do, things get ugly. In the last two road losses, at Buffalo and at Indianapolis, they lost a combined 71-3 and committed eight turnovers. In the other four contests, they committed a combined three turnovers. After the loss at Indianapolis, WR Brandin Cooks said the Texans lacked discipline and was encouraged by what he saw in the preparation this week.
"I think we're having a better week of practice in our process," Cooks said. "We've got to continue to trust it and be consistent at it, and hopefully, those things will show up in the game, as well."
Head Coach David Culley explained earlier this week what was needed to turn the tide in regards to the mental mistakes.
"To turn things around, you have to change the way you're doing things and do things the right way, just like those things that I mentioned," Culley said. "You've got to be able to play situational football and not have critical errors. As a coaching staff, we've got to make sure that we're doing the things in practice to make sure those things don't happen."
2) Build On the Run – Coming into last weekend, RB Mark Ingram II was averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Against the Colts, he ran the ball 18 times for 73 yards, which was good for 4.1 yards per. Furthermore, he had seven carries that went for five yards or more, including a 24-yarder, while the contest was still a 1-score game.
According to Ingram, that small bit of success in an otherwise dreary afternoon was possible in large part because of what happened upfront.
"The offensive line just did a great job of getting movement and creating seams to run through," Ingram said. "I had a couple of chunk runs, and that always helps."
Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly liked what he saw in the run game, too.
"Executed the game plan well," Kelly said. "Backs ran hard. Guys up front blocked well. Had some good blocks by our skill position players. Davis (Mills) did a good job getting us in and out of plays. They executed the plan well."
The Cardinals defense against the run, meanwhile, has been in the bottom third of the NFL rankings. Arizona gives up an average of 5.2 yards per carry, and only the Chargers are worse in that stat. If Houston can continue to run it effectively, QB Davis Mills will benefit.
3) Without Whit – The Texans released veteran DL Whitney Mercilus earlier this week, and General Manager Nick Caserio said it was largely so the younger pass rushers could get more playing time.
"It gives some other players maybe another opportunity to go out there and play and perform," Caserio said. "This presents opportunities for some other players, so the door's open right now."
Jonathan Greenard and Jacob Martin will likely get a boost in reps, as will DeMarcus Walker, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Jenkins.
Greenard, in particular, has played well lately. After missing the first two games of the season, he's logged four sacks in as many games and leads the team in that statistic.
"He's a legitimate rusher on the outside," Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith said. "He has good size to play the run, also. He's just coming into his own. He left a couple, probably at least one sack on the field last week. He's a guy that can do some things."
Arizona QB Kyler Murray's been sacked 12 times this season. He's been sacked two or more times in every game but one in 2021.
4) Weapons Aplenty – Murray has numerous weapons, and the most familiar to Houston fans is Texans great DeAndre Hopkins. He's caught six touchdowns already this year and is surrounded by the likes of Pro Bowler A.J. Green, newly acquired Pro Bowl TE Zach Ertz, and former Texas A&M standout Christian Kirk.
King said defending Hopkins is a definite test and described how the Texans must play him.
"We know he's a threat," King said. "He's a receiver that when the ball is thrown his way, nine times out of 10, he's going to come down with it. As long as we are in the area and competing all the way until the ball is thrown to the ball is down and whistle blown. That's all that we can do."
Ertz, who was traded to Arizona from the Eagles, has three Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl ring. His addition to the Cardinals offense will likely alter how they do things and how teams must defend Arizona.
"They were a potent offense without him, and to add an excellent player, which he is, at the tight end position, to me, what that leads to is maybe not as much four-receiver sets and more three-receiver sets," Smith said. "But it's tough duty, however you look at it."
5) New Returners – In addition to the release of Mercilus this week, the Texans also parted ways with return man Andre Roberts. Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross explained that DB Tremon Smith, DB Desmond King II, WR Danny Amendola and RB Scottie Phillips are among some of the options for Houston in returning kickoffs and punts. Ross also detailed what the team needs from whoever is handling the job.
"Speed, ability to play fast through coverage, and attack downhill is what we are looking for from those guys," Ross said.
When he returned punts in the preseason, King was electric. He returned a punt at Green Bay for 43 yards and a kickoff for 29. King followed that up the next week with a 24-yard punt return at Dallas.
"Desmond has experience in the NFL," Ross said. "Has some really good make-miss ability and his ability to pick his way through coverage. We saw that a little bit in the preseason."
If he gets the chance to return again, King welcomes the opportunity and says he picked up a thing or two from Roberts.
"Having Andre here, he definitely helped me when he came in," King said. "He's a multi-plus-year veteran. Learning from him definitely helped me a lot. Now it's my turn to take over that and do what I can to help the team."
In his career during the regular season, King's returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 8.9 yards per punt return.
The Texans will play the Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:25 p.m. CT on CBS and SportsRadio 610.
The next time you can see the Texans at NRG Stadium will be on October 31 as they host the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.
The Houston Texans roster in photos.