The Texans (1-1) travel to California this weekend for a matchup with the Chargers (1-1). Here are five things to watch when they kickoff at 3:25 p.m. CT in Dignity Health Sports Park. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Keep the run rolling – Through two weeks, the ground attack has been productive for the Texans. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson are averaging 5.8 and 5.9 yards per carry, respectively. They’ve combined for 261 yards on 45 rushing attempts, and consistently gained large chunks of yardage. In fact, only one of those 45 carries has resulted in a loss of yardage.
That tandem’s been a good one, but Hyde was quick to give credit to his blockers up front.
“Offensive line has been doing a good job for me,” Hyde said. “Creating space and allowing me to come through a small gap or maybe they’ve created a hole for me to come through and get my shoulders square and make something happen.”
This could be an advantageous matchup for Houston, as the Los Angeles run defense has allowed 148.5 yards per game on the ground. That’s 28th in the NFL. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is impressed with what the Texans have been able to do so far in the run game.
“Carlos Hyde, that kid looks terrific,” Lynn said. “He’s averaging over five yards-per-carry, I believe. Their rushing attack right now looks good with Duke Johnson in the backfield.”
2) O-line progress – As Hyde mentioned, the offensive line has been solid in creating holes for the running backs. Continuing to get better in pass protection is also an area of focus. Last week saw Laremy Tunsil start his second game as a Texan at left tackle. It also saw the NFL debut of rookie left guard Tytus Howard, and the first NFL start for right tackle Roderick Johnson.
That unit will get another week of practice to gel and communicate, and is looking to do a better job of handling pressure.
"I think the line has actually played well,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “Now, we could all do better. We're seeing a lot of pressure and we've got to do a better job against the pressure. We've got to understand that that involves more than the line.”
In addition to blitzes, the line will have to be on high alert with playmakers like Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram in the Chargers’ front seven.
That duo is a stiff challenge for the Texans.
“They're both strong, they're both athletic, they both play hard on every play, they're both smart, instinctive players, good against the pass, good against the run,” O’Brien said. “Big, big challenge for us.”
Quarterback Deshaun Watson said he’ll be aware of where they are at all times.
"Those are two guys that you've got to make sure that you keep an eye on and contain as much as you can,” Watson said. “You have to make sure you have a nice plan for those two and try to contain them as best as you can."
3) Speaking of Watson – The Texans quarterback has an array of weapons at his disposal. In addition to the running game detailed above, he still has All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, along with Will Fuller, V and Kenny Stills. That tandem can make things happen deep. Further, Keke Coutee returned to action last week, and DeAndre Carter remains in the fold, too.
"It's always good to have weapons,” Watson said. “Just try to get the ball in those guys’ hands and let them go to work. That's what they get paid to do, to get the ball and make something happen in space. It's fun to kind of get everyone healthy and try to get back on the same page and get more experience as the gamedays and the practices continue to grow."
Lynn is mightily impressed with Watson, who’s thrown three touchdowns this season and rushed for two more.
“That quarterback is insane,” Lynn said. “There’s nothing that he can’t do. It’s going to be a tough challenge this weekend, but we’re looking forward to it. He has the ability to escape, extend plays. He can beat you with his legs. He can beat you with his arm. He’s an outstanding young quarterback.”
4) Cool Rivers – Under center for the Chargers is Philip Rivers, who will likely be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Through two games, the 8-time Pro Bowler has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 626 yards and three touchdowns. But he’s also been picked off twice, and the Texans will look to extend their 15-game streak of getting a takeaway. It’s the longest current streak in the NFL.
To do so against Rivers, though, will be tricky.
"He can make all the throws," cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "He's put up touchdown numbers, very little interception numbers. He's a Hall of Fame type of guy."
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has coached against Rivers and the Chargers multiple times in his career, and hasn’t seen any signs of aging from the 16-year veteran.
“Some of the same things that have allowed him to be an eight-time pro bowler and still be playing in this game at a high level, he had those then and he still has them now," Crennel said.
5) Special teams shine – The Texans jiggled the mix at special teams this week, waiving punter Trevor Daniel and signing Bryan Anger to take Daniel’s place. Anger was with Houston during training camp, and has averaged 46.2 yards per punt since entering the NFL in 2012. In August, Anger punted 10 times in the preseason games, averaging 47.2 yards.
“Just felt like we needed more consistency and so we brought Bryan in and we'll see how that goes,” O’Brien said of the move.
Meanwhile, the Chargers have struggled in the kicking game. Kicker Michael Badgley has been injured, but might play Sunday. Punter Ty Long has handled the kicking duties with Badgley out, but he missed two field goal attempts in Sunday’s loss at Detroit.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ty,” Lynn said. “Two weeks ago, the best kicker in NFL history missed a few field goals. It happens. Ty is very confident. We’re confident in Ty. If we have to kick him again, we’ll do it.”
While Long struggled in the field goal department last week, he was solid punting. He boomed four balls for an average of 50.5 yards.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 11/13/2019)