The Texans (1-7-1) are back at NRG Stadium for a Week 11 matchup with the Commanders (5-5). Houston's won the previous three meetings between the two franchises, and holds a 3-2 lead in the all-time series. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT.
1) Pierce push
RB Dameon Pierce has been a breath of fresh air all season long for the Texans. The rookie is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards with 772 yards, and only Derrick Henry (230) and Saquon Barkley (198) have more carries than his 165.
Last Sunday against New York, Pierce picked up 94 more yards on just 17 carries. In five of the last six games, he's picked up at least 90 yards. An explosive back, he's had at least one carry per game that went for 12 yards or more in every contest but the season opener. In six games this season, Pierce has broken loose for at least one run of 20 yards or more. Washington Head Coach Ron Rivera knows what sort of challenge Pierce presents to his Commanders' defense.
"He's a physical guy that runs downhill," Rivera said. "He's got a good plant and counter, in terms of being able to see something with vision and make a cutback. I like the fact that he is a downhill, physical guy."
The Washington defense is 16th in the league in rushing yards allowed, and tied for ninth-best in the NFL at 4.4 yards per carry allowed. Only eight teams are giving up fewer yards per rush attempt.
2) New face(s)?
Earlier this week, the Texans added RB Eno Benjamin and WR Amari Rodgers off waivers. The former practiced with the team on Thursday, while the latter might get some work in with the Texans on Friday morning. Benjamin comes to town after spending the previous two seasons in Arizona, and as recently as Week 7, he picked up 92 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes for 21 yards in a Cardinals' win over the Saints.
Head Coach Lovie Smith wouldn't say whether or not Benjamin will definitely suit up and play against Commanders, but the newest Texan was willing to go.
"I feel like I'm ready," Benjamin said. "If my number's called, I'm going to go out there and do whatever and do it to the best of my ability."
Benjamin started three times this season for Arizona, and in 10 games total he averaged 4.3 yards per carry. The third-year pro also caught 24 passes for 184 yards in that stretch. In the locker room after his first Texans practice Thursday, he described who he is as a running back.
"I'm a guy who can run it inside, outside, run past you, and run through you as well," Benjamin said.
Smith said Benjamin knows "what to do with the ball" has "a bit of size to him". Quarterback Davis Mills is "excited" about Benjamin's addition.
"He's another really talented player to add to that running back room," Mills said. "I heard he's a really good pass catcher out of the backfield as well, so just excited for another way to attack defenses and switch up the looks."
3) Slow down now…
Last Sunday, the Giants ran the ball 47 times against Houston. The next night, the Commanders beat the Eagles on the road in large part because they were able to run it 49 times on Philadelphia. The Texans defense can't let Washington control the ball and bludgeon them on the ground again.
"We've got to tackle better," Linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "I know coach stresses it a lot, when we are at the point of attack it can't just be one guy there. It's got to be a bunch of guys there to tackle the ball carrier."
Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson, Junior have combined for 677 rushing yards and five touchdown runs this season. Neither is averaging more than 3.6 yards per carry. Despite that, Defensive Lineman Ogbo Okoronkwo is impressed by the rookie Robinson.
"He's a good player," Okoronkwo said. "I think a lot of teams will try to run the ball, so I don't think we're going to stop seeing that until we stop it."
In four of their last five games, the Commanders have rushed for at least 128 yards or more. In that same span, Washington's record is 4-1.
4) Stay Clean and take it away
The Texans have lost the turnover/takeaway battle in three of the last four games, and on the season they've turned it over as many times as they've taken it away from other teams. That's tied for the 14th-best mark in the NFL, and Washington is at minus-2, which is tied for the 21st-best mark in the league.
Against New York last weekend, the Texans were picked off once and fumbled the ball away another time. They also didn't log a takeaway. Mills attributed that deficiency to the ultimate outcome of the game, which was a 24-16 defeat.
"The turnover margin in the game is what caused the result of the loss," Mills said. "When you look at our two turnovers from the game, the fumble and my interception, they were both down in the red zone and scoring opportunities. When you take those away, we finish with points on both of those drives, and it's a completely different game."
The only time the Texans have been victorious this season was when they were plus-2 in turnover differential. They're 1-2-1 when they are plus-1 or better, 0-1 when even, and they've lost all four games in which they've lost the turnover/takeaway battle.
5) Formidable front
The Texans will see an excellent defensive front this weekend from the Commanders. They've allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.3 percent of their passes in 2022, which is fifth-best in the NFL. Tight End Jordan Akins is impressed by what he's seen them do against the pass and the run.
"Good front," Akins said. "Definitely, create pressure, puts pressure on the quarterback. They do good in the run game as well, so we're going to have to set some pads, move some D-line, and open up some lanes for Dameon Pierce."
Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have combined for 10 sacks this season from defensive tackle positions, and they've made life tough for interior offensive lines.
Browse tickets for Texans vs. the Washington Commanders.
Check out some photos from Houston Texans practice on November 16.