The Texans host AFC South rival Jacksonville on Sunday inside NRG Stadium. The 2021 regular-season opener features a pair of teams with new faces at both head coach and quarterback. Since Week 17 of 2010, the Texans have won 17 of the last 21 matchups and haven't lost to the Jaguars since the 2017 campaign. Kickoff is set for Noon CT and here are five things to watch in the contest.
1) Ty's the Guy – Tyrod Taylor will be the eighth man to start a Week 1 game at quarterback for the Texans. Derek Carr, Matt Schaub, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson were the others. Since 2015, Taylor's been the Week 1 starter in every season save, for 2019 and he's guided his teams to a combined 3-2-1 record in that first week of the regular season.
Taylor has high expectations.
"I expect obviously for myself to go out and play winning football and I think the same for the team," Taylor said. "I think the expectation is the same: winning football is the standard. We set that standard from day one with the work that we put in day-in and day-out."
The Jaguars, with Urban Meyer now in charge as the head coach, hold Taylor in high regard. Meyer said he and the Jacksonville coaching staff have combed through Taylor's game film, dating back to his days in Buffalo from 2015 to 2017.
"I've always thought he's a heck of a player," Meyer said. "I like the guys that can move. He's a dual-threat guy. In Buffalo, he was outstanding and then he got injured at the Chargers."
2) Run Game – After struggling to run the ball effectively in 2020, the Texans prioritized bolstering the run game for 2021. There are potentially four new starters on the offensive line and there are five running backs currently on the 53-man roster. Finding the right combo and then getting positive yardage on a consistent basis will be important if Houston's to be successful.
"It just gives us a chance to be more physical, let us know that our coaches believe in us and think we can dominate upfront to be able to run the ball and not pass the ball all the time," OL Tytus Howard said. "It's just good to know we have a head coach and an offensive coordinator who are behind us and fully support us as a group."
Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead and Scottie Phillips were not on the 53-man roster for the Texans this time a year ago, David Johnson was. In the final two preseason games, Ingram got the first-team carries and will likely get them Sunday against Jacksonville. Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly indicated the Texans have a plan to split the reps, but that plan can certainly change, based on who's performing well. Regardless, Lindsay explained how he'd approach the game.
"You've got to take advantage of the other reps that are given to you at the time," Lindsay said. "When you get hot, you want to make sure that person's in so that they can continue to get hot until they kind of get cool a little bit, then you hope for the next one, too. When somebody is hot, you want to keep them going. That's definitely what you want to do."
3) Get Three Takeaways – After coming up with an NFL-worst nine takeaways in 2020, the Texans are focused on boosting that number. So focused, in fact, Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith has a goal of getting three or more takeaways per game and at least 20 strip attempts per contest. Coming up with the ball is a huge goal and Vernon Hargreaves III described how Smith's 4-3 scheme helps defensive backs.
"It gives everybody a chance to break on the ball, react on the quarterback, get to the ball and cause turnovers," the defensive back said. "It showed a little bit in the preseason. I don't think it's benefitting just me. It's a whole defensive thing. It's going to help everybody. Everybody is going to be able to read and react, play fast and get to the ball."
In three preseason games, Houston came up with three takeaways in each outing and wound up with 10-total. Culley was cautious about putting too much stock in preseason statistics but liked what he saw from his club in that area.
"I think as far as statistics and as much are irrelevant right now, but what is relevant is that we have preached about getting turnovers and we got them," Culley said.
That August takeaway bonanza was noticed in Jacksonville.
"They do a good job with zone eyes," Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence said. "A really good job reading the quarterback. They forced 10-turnovers this preseason, which is three games. That's a lot of turnovers. That's one thing that jumps off the page when you're looking at just their stats. The way they fly around has been impressive to watch."
4) Corner Corps – The Texans traded veteran CB Bradley Roby earlier this week. He wasn't going to play against the Jaguars because he had to finish serving a six-game suspension that kept him out of the final five contests of 2020, but how the Texans deploy their defensive backs this weekend and beyond bears watching.
"He wasn't playing this week, so our preparation has been without him," Smith said. "So how we're going to approach it is that we have two starting corners in Terrance Mitchell and Vernon Hargreaves that are going to tee it up and we'll go from there."
They'll get tested by Lawrence, the first overall pick in the NFL Draft this year.
"He is a special kid," S Justin Reid said. "I think he has tremendous arm talent. I think he has some ability. I think he is still a rookie. Rookies are going to do rookie things, as far as wanting to see receivers open and things like that, but he is the number one overall draft pick and we are going to give him the credit and respect he deserves because of that."
5) Special Teams Changes – K Ka'imi Fairbairn was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, so K Joey Slye will likely be pulled up from the practice squad to the active roster. He spent the previous two years in Carolina, where he connected on 79.4 percent of his field-goal tries.
"He has a strong leg and we're excited to work with Joey," Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross said. "He has been great as far as his professionalism and trying to get to speed as quickly as possible. When you look at Carolina the past few years, they were banging touchbacks and he has the ability to do that. We will definitely use that to our strength depending of the situation of the game."
On top of the new kicker, the Texans will have return man Andre Roberts available. He missed all three preseason games and much of Training Camp with an injury, but he's been selected to the last three Pro Bowls as a returner and gives the Texans a threat. Add in CB Desmond King, who had a few lengthy punt returns in the preseason, veteran Danny Amendola and the Texans are well-stocked with experience.
Check out some of the things that are new at NRG Stadium for the 2021 season!