First Glance: Texans at Eagles

The Texans (10-4) hit the road for a Sunday matchup at Philadelphia (7-7). It’s the first meeting between these two teams since 2014, and the Eagles have won all four times they’ve played Houston. Here are five things to watch when Texans and Philadelphia kick off at noon CT inside Lincoln Financial Field. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.

1) Do it again, Deshaun: Quarterback Deshaun Watson chopped up the Jets on the Texans’ final touchdown drive of the game last Saturday, completing 6-of-7 passes for 70 yards and what would prove to be the deciding score to DeAndre Hopkins. It was part of a larger effort that saw him complete 79 percent of his passes for 294 yards, with one more scoring strike to Hopkins.

It was the fifth time this season Watson lead the Texans on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, which tied him with Drew Brees for most in the NFL. Watson described why he’s been effective when the game is close, late.

“You just got to be prepared for every situation, and you’ve got to be very good in situational football, especially down the stretch because a majority of the games are going to come down to that last drive or the last couple minutes,” Watson said.

He was sacked six times at New York, but he also wasn’t picked off. That’s the seventh game in the last eight he hasn’t thrown an interception. He began the year by throwing an interception in each of the first six games.

Watson’s explanation for the change was pretty simple.

“Just taking what the defense gives us, and then everyone just putting extra focus on protecting the ball when carrying it,” Watson said. “That was pretty much it.”

Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan added that more experience has helped Watson in that regard as well.

“The more you play, the more comfortable you get with what’s going on post-snap, what’s the defense doing and then making good decisions off of it,” Ryan said. “I think, certainly, playing gives you more – you’ve seen more, and you can react to things a little bit quicker.”

2) Rejuvenate the Run – It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the Texans on the ground. Against the Colts and Jets, Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue averaged a combined 2.1 yards per carry, and gained a total of 68 yards in those two contests. Despite the last two games, Houston is still sixth in the NFL in yards per contest on the ground, at 130.4. Getting back to that level of production will go a long way toward helping the Texans get a W. Head coach Bill O’Brien said improving in that area will depend on a lot of different people.

“I think everybody’s involved in that,” O’Brien. “I think we’ve got to do a better job upstairs coaching-wise. Then, they guys up front – tight ends, line, running backs, everybody – everybody’s got to do a better job. We’re all involved in trying to get that improved.”

Miller left the Jets game in the second quarter with an ankle injury, and will be a gametime decision at Philadelphia. In 2018, Blue’s scored twice on the ground and gained 3.3 yards per carry.

 D’Onta Foreman, meanwhile, “could” suit up for the first time in 2018, according to O’Brien. He’s been on the comeback trail from an Achilles injury.

“Whenever they give me the opportunity to go out there and do what I do, then I feel like I’ll be ready,” Foreman said. “I’ve had a lot of weeks of practice and I feel good.”

If Foreman plays, O’Brien described what he wants to see from the second-year back.

“Good vision, good knowledge of how the play’s being blocked, decisive running, continuing to improve in his knowledge of pass protections,” O’Brien said. “Just good, solid play. Take care of the ball, number one.”

Foreman averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie in 2017, and also caught six passes for 83 yards.

3) Frustrate Foles – The Eagles will start Nick Foles at quarterback Sunday, and the reigning Super Bowl MVP is coming off a week in which he completed 77 percent of his passes for 270 yards in a victory at the Rams. He’s the backup to Carson Wentz, but the Texans have a lot of respect for Foles.

“He can move around a little bit, he knows the system, he know the guys, he knows what he’s doing, knows how to find the open guy and get it to him,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “He does a great job.”

Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson explained why Foles is able to have success under center.

“He has a cunning knack to just slow the game down,” Pederson said. To just process it and keep things kind of simple in his mind, no clutter, and just allowing things to work for him around him. Again, that’s a credit to him, his preparation during the week and it paid off for him the other night.”

Foles was picked off at Los Angeles, but he wasn’t sacked. The Eagles have been victorious in two of the three games he’s started this season.

4) Safety first – Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson have turned in Pro Bowl-worthy seasons and were named as alternates earlier this week. Rookie Justin Reid’s play this season has certainly been Pro Bowl-caliber as well. That trio at the back of the Texans defense has made plays week-after-week, and could find themselves in position to do so again at Philadelphia.

Jackson, who’s had to play more at cornerback recently, has registered a career high this season in tackles (82), and also logged 14 passes defensed, five tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions. He pemphasized how important a win would be on Sunday.

“We want to continue to play deep into the playoffs,” Jackson said. “So this will be our first step and we definitely have to go get this one.”

Mathieu meanwhile, said the challenge ahead of the Texans is a big one.

“It’s going to be a tough environment, playing in Philadelphia,” Mathieu said. “Those guys are coming off a big win. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get their best shot.”

5) Roll on, turnover train – The Texans have been excellent this year in turnover differential. They’ve taken the ball away from opponents 10 more times than they’ve turned it over, and that plus-10 mark is the third-best in the NFL. At New York last Saturday, Houston didn’t give the ball up, and J.J. Watt forced a fumble that Angelo Blackson recovered.

Pederson, who’s Eagles are 22nd in the NFL in turnover differential at minus-4, pointed out how important that stat is to the Texans fortunes.

“That’s the key to their success right now is you have to eliminate the turnovers down the stretch as you approach the postseason,” Pederson said. “Those are things that we talk about all the time – penalties and turnovers and then of course takeaways.”

The last time the Texans defense or special teams didn’t record a takeaway was in a Week 3 loss at home to the Giants. That loss, and the loss at Tennessee in Week 2 are the only two games this season the Texans haven’t logged a takeaway.

The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 5/20/2019)

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