The Texans (0-4) host the Jaguars (1-3) on Sunday in a Week 5 matchup. Here are five things to watch when the two squads square off for the 37th time since 2002. Kickoff is set for Noon CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Get loose now – The Texans and Bill O'Brien parted ways on Monday afternoon, and Romeo Crennel is now the interim head coach. Hearing from him, and from many of the players, there is a new attitude in the locker room and on the practice field. Hopefully, that can carry over to gameday.
"We want our guys to play loose and free and have fun and enjoy it and trust in each other, and feel like they can go out there and be who they are and play the game the way they know how to play it," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "I'm looking forward to seeing that."
The Texans are in a mighty hole, as they're winless a quarter of the way through the season. But righting the ship and making the playoffs is something they say they'll worry about down the line. Because, as linebacker and team captain Dylan Cole said, they need to start by focusing on the task in front of them.
"We're all professionals, so we understand that this is a business," Cole said. "We're just trying to make sure we get one win this week. That is the goal."
2) Romeo's in charge – At the age of 73, Crennel will be the oldest man to head coach a game in NFL history. With five Super Bowl rings as an assistant, over five seasons as an NFL head coach, and 49 years of coaching experience in total, Crennel has a deep reservoir of football experience and knowledge.
He had two stints as defensive coordinator in Houston, from 2014-16, and then in 2018 and 2019. In 2017 and this year he was an assistant head coach.
Crennel is up for the challenge, and with seven years in Houston, he explained his mindset in taking over as head coach.
"I have relationships with a lot of these players and I know that sometimes change is difficult, particularly when you bring somebody from the outside in," Crennel said. "I want to do as much for these guys as I can to see if we can finish this season on a good note and have some stability in the organization."
With Deshaun Watson starting under center this Sunday, it will also be the first time in NFL history an African-American quarterback has started for an African-American head coach.
"That's pretty dope," Watson said. "That's pretty cool. History is going to continue to grow, especially with the times going on right now, but me and RAC, what we want to do is make sure that this team and that locker room is focused and ready to go win on Sunday."
3) Watson and the offense – Speaking of Watson, he and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly are running the show on that side of the ball. Without O'Brien in the mix, there could be some differences. But that duo downplayed the idea of massive changes.
"We're all confident in Tim Kelly," Watson said. "We all have the potential and we have the talent to be very explosive. We just have to put it together. We have to do it for four quarters."
Kelly said the goal remains the same as it was last week, and the week before, and so on.
"It's going to be the same playbook and hopefully we can put him in position to go out and score as many points as we're going to need to win the game," Kelly said. "I want to make sure Deshaun is best prepared as he can be so when he steps on the field, that he's ready for anything they throw his way so he can go out there and perform at his best."
Even if Watson and Kelly wouldn't say so, receiver Randall Cobb is confident the Watson/Kelly combo can produce something else for the Texans.
"Hopefully the big thing is that we find our identity," Cobb said. "I still don't think that we've created that yet this year. I think we did some good things last week. I think we moved the ball a little bit better. We got into some rhythms on some drives. We used our quick game. We got the ball out fast. We were able to make some plays but still haven't created an identity for ourselves after the first quarter of the season."
4) Stuffing, anyone? – On the flip side, the defense would like to find the ability to stop the run. It's been rough so far in that area, as opponents have ground out an average of 181.8 yards per game against the Texans. That's the worst mark in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver said it's "horrendous" on the whole, but that he's also seen some glimmers of hope for Sunday and the weeks ahead with slowing down opposing ground attacks.
"You read statistically we're last, you wouldn't think we could stop a nosebleed," Weaver said. "But in yards per attempt, now we're more middle of the pack. We're 23, 24. So we've been a victim of the X-play run, which to me, it's not a matter of personnel, it's not a matter of scheme, but it's a matter of consistency. Whether that's in fits, in technique and fundamentals, or in missed tackles. We have to find a way to be more consistent."
Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus agreed, and expanded upon Weaver's analysis.
"Guys just being sound and disciplined in their gaps," Mercilus said. "That's one of the main things in order to handle that and contain that. Just being able to trust each other in the defense, as well too. Understanding I'm going to be in this gap, I know my guy, my buddy, is going to cover the gap outside of me and all that."
5) Get the ball – The Texans have turned the ball over at least once in every game this season, and they've yet to record a takeaway. At minus-5 in 2020, they're tied with the Eagles, and better than only the Cowboys and Broncos in that turnover differential category.
Getting an interception or a fumble recovery could do a lot of things for not just the defense, but the offense as well, according to Mercilus.
"We've got to be able to play complementary football all the way across the board," Mercilus said. "We need to get takeaways. We haven't gotten a takeaway either. That changes the momentum of the game. We've just got to be better in regards to those things."