The Texans (1-0 in the preseason) face the Cowboys (0-2 in the preseason) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
1. Weapons return – After sitting out the Green Bay contest last Saturday night, we'll likely see receiver Brandin Cooks, running backs Mark Ingram II and Rex Burkhead, and tight end Pharaoh Brown. Despite their absence last week, Houston was able to find the end zone twice, and tack on four Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals. Head coach David Culley explained Thursday how he and the rest of the coaching staff will divvy up reps in Arlington.
"We haven't yet really determined who's a starter for us and who's not a starter for us right now," Culley said. "But I do know that last week, those guys who played and didn't get played much will play a little more. How much? We're not really sure yet. Because there's a bunch of guys who didn't play – I think 10 to 12 guys who didn't play last week who are going to get reps this week."
The roster was trimmed from 90 players to 85 this week, so that adds an additional wrinkle for Culley and company in determining hour much each man will play.
Last week the running back corps saw Scottie Phillips lead the way with 5.1 yards per carry, 66 yards total on the ground, and a rushing touchdown. Phillip Lindsey started, finishing with five carries for 14 yards. Buddy Howell, Darius Jackson and David Johnson also had rushing attempts, and helped the Texans ball carriers finish with 154 yards combined.
2. Red zone – Culley was pleased with the victory in Green Bay, but he wanted a better showing in the red zone. The Texans got inside the Packers' 20-yard line four times last week, but came away with just one touchdown.
"We've had inconsistency all during training camp right now, and it showed up in the game a little bit," Culley said. "We've just got to be more consistent there, and we're going to work on that more."
Houston struggled to get touchdowns in the red zone in 2020, and it's an area the Texans want to improve. They were 25th in the NFL in getting into the end zone once they crossed the opponents' 20-yard line last year.
3. QB progression – Tyrod Taylor started the game under center against the Packers, and his lone drive went 53 yards on 11 plays, and resulted in a Fairbairn field goal. Rookie Davis Mills relieved him, and wound up playing 36 snaps, which was 48 percent of the offensive snaps in the contest.
Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly described what he saw from the veteran Taylor.
"Tyrod came out and did what we asked him to do, made some good throws," Kelly said. "He was able to move the ball."
Mills was dropped for a sack on his second play from scrimmage, and would go on to complete 11-of-22 passes for 112 yards on the night.
"He did good," Kelly said. "The whole thing with him is just going to be to accumulate as many reps as possible. He's only had however many, 257 throws or whatever since high school. Just for him to continue to grow and develop, and the more he sees defenses, the more he gets comfortable with our route running, the more improvement we're going to see each and every day."
4. Takeaways – Defensively, coordinator Lovie Smith saw his side of the ball come away with three takeaways. With a pair of fumble recoveries and an interception, the Texans defense on Saturday night took a positive step in coming away with the ball.
"It's something that has to be done, to me, if you say that you're playing good defense," Smith said. "You just can't play even and rely on punts and things like that. So, yes, that's an emphasis that we put every day we're coming out here."
The Texans only had nine as a team in the 2020 regular season, and Smith's goal is to get at least three per game.
"There's a certain amount we would like to get, and to see the guys be able to get that done and see what a takeaway does," Smith said. "Of course, putting the offense in good position, momentum, all of that. So, there should have been a smile on all of our faces with that one, and that's something we need to be able to do throughout the season."
5. Key guys on D – Smith will likely see some key faces on Saturday night who didn't play against the Packers. Safety Justin Reid and linebackers Zach Cunningham and Christian Kirksey and defensive linemen Charles Omenihu and Maliek Collins were among the contributors held out in Green Bay. With them back, Smith and the defensive staff will likely tweak the reps all around as well.
Smith discussed what he's seen from Collins thus far, and his excitement for seeing him at Dallas.
"He's a good football player," Smith said. "He's our profile for our under tackle, three-technique. A guy with size, he's a 300-pounder with loose hips, he's athletic, he can rush the passer. Those situations of one-on-one, to me, it can be a good defense if you get one of your three-technique one-on-one with the guard. Maliek's going to win most of those, and that's a pretty good defense for us. Pleased with what he's done in practice. I can't wait to get him some game work."