The Texans (5-3) travel to London for a Week 9 showdown with the Jaguars (4-4). The AFC South rivals square off at Wembley Stadium, and kickoff is set for 8:30 a.m. CT nationally on the NFL Network and KRIV-FOX26 in Houston. Here are five things to watch when the division foes face each other. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Reign man – It was a stellar October for Deshaun Watson. So stellar, the Texans quarterback was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. He completed 73 percent of his passes for nearly 1,300 yards, with 10 touchdowns. He also ran for a pair of scores, and the Texans went 3-1.
Continuing his excellent play is a key, because the other side of the ball lost a key piece last week when defensive end J.J. Watt injured his pectoral muscle. Getting fireworks from Watson and the offense is vital. The Jaguars are wary of what Watson can do.
"Deshaun Watson is an MVP-type candidate, a guy that can lead that team to the Super Bowl," Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us defensively. He's a threat running, he's a threat extending plays, he's very difficult to tackle, he has great accuracy. It's really going to be a heck of a challenge for us on defense with the way he's playing."
In a quartet of games against the Jags, Watson has completed 59 percent of his passes, with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. He's also run twice for a touchdown.The Texans have won the last three of those contests.
He was kicked in the eye at the end of last Sunday's win over the Raiders, but stressed that he'll be good to go for Sunday's game.
"I feel fine," Watson said. "It looks bad. It's going to look worse before it actually gets better, but I'm actually good."
2) Who's on 'Hop? – Watson's favorite target, DeAndre Hopkins, typically was guarded 1-on-1 by cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Two of the NFL's premier talents, theirs was always a battle in which each player claimed victories within the game.
But Ramsey is now a Los Angeles Ram, so the Jaguars will need to figure out a way to defend the All-Pro receiver.
Hopkins will likely see quite a bit of his former teammate in cornerback A.J. Bouye.
"I assume that A.J. will follow D-Hop, but we just kind of have to really adjust and see what they do and see what type of coverage they want to play," Watson said. "At the end of the day, they're going to do what they do – play a lot of man on third down and different coverages and try to mix it up and get to us."
Whoever covers Hopkins, though, has his respect.
"They have good corners over there," Hopkins said. "A.J. Bouye, played against him a while. It's a good defense over there."
In 13 career games against Jacksonville, Hopkins has caught 71 passes for 882 yards and five touchdowns. The Texans have won nine of those 13 contests.
In addition to defending against Hopkins, the Jags must also find ways to limit the other weapons on offense like Kenny Stills, Keke Coutee, Duke Johnson, Darren Fells and Jordan Akins.
3) Protection is back – Rookie right tackle Tytus Howard returned to practice after missing time with an injury, and was a full participant both Thursday and Friday at practice. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil left Sunday's win with an injury, and was a limited participant in practice this week.
Both are listed as questionable for Sunday, and Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said they'll be gametime decisions.
Tackle Roderick Johnson, who replaced Howard, but was soon injured himself, was a full participant this week.
Their availability is key, because the Jacksonville pass rush remains potent.
"They're a really good unit, really good front seven," Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "They present a lot of challenges. They've got a lot of great players up front. They're really good all over the place, so it's definitely a big challenge for us. Looking forward to seeing our guys hopefully step up to it and play well."
4) Manage Minshew – Gardner Minshew is a rookie. He was a sixth round draft pick. He plays like neither.
The young quarterback has thrown 13 touchdowns and been picked off only twice. He's completing 61 percent of his passes. The Jaguars are 4-3 in games he's started.
O'Brien explained why Minshew is such a "challenge" for the Texans defense.
"He's done a good job," O'Brien said. "For a guy to come in there in his first year and do what he's done, he's got a really good completion percentage, he's a playmaker, he's got really good poise, he has a lot of fun playing. Obviously, his team believes in him and he manages the offense very well."
Minshew and the Jaguars nearly pulled off a come-from-behind victory at Houston in Week 2. His success, according to the Texans, is not surprising at all.
"He stepped in and has been productive and has won games," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. "He moves his team down the field and gets them in scoring position. He throws it, he manages the game with the running game, and then he can run himself which causes the defense a lot of trouble."
While the bulk of his teammates have played in a London game before, it's the first trip abroad for Minshew.
5) Speaking of adjustments – The Texans took a 9-hour flight and are now in a time zone five hours ahead of Houston. The body clock acclimating to the change is something to consider. A handful of players, like Stills, safety Jahleel Addae, and cornerback Gareon Conley have played in the game overseas.
Watson, like Minshew, has never played in London. But he's still familiar with the city, as he visited it recently.
"London was awesome," Watson said. "I went there twice this summer, had a great time, met a lot of different people, actually had the opportunity to go to Wembley Stadium and go into the locker rooms and walk the field and do all the experience and the tour. It was a dope time."
O'Brien on Friday, said the Texans "are happy" to be in London and praised the advance work done by the staff in preparation for the journey.
"It's been a good trip," O'Brien said. "We had a nice plane, guys were able to sleep. I think our operations people, Clay Hampton, Brent Naccara, they did a great job getting us through the airport, getting us to customs, getting us to the hotel. The hotel is a beautiful hotel over here in Syon Park, so guys are getting treated very well."
The Houston Texans Cheerleaders and TORO toured Wembley Stadium in London!