The Texans (9-4) face the Jets (4-9) on Saturday afternoon in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Here are five things to watch when the two teams kick off at 3:30 p.m. CT in MetLife Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Turnover Train – The Texans turned the season around via the turnover. Through the first three contests, they were winless and at minus-2 overall in turnover differential. In the 10 games since, they're plus-11 in turnover differential. On the season, they're plus-9, which means they've taken the ball away from opponents nine more times than they've turned the ball over.
Defensive end J.J. Watt explained the recent explosion.
"Turnovers come in many different ways," Watt said. "Sometimes it's just a matter of a lucky bounce, sometimes it's a matter of a great scheme, sometimes it's just a phenomenal play. They come in all different ways and shapes. Sometimes they come in bunches, sometimes you go on a drought, but you have to do everything in your power to make them come. That's what we're working to do, is put ourselves in the best position and make plays."
In six of the last seven games, the Texans haven't committed a turnover.
The Texans are tied for fourth in the NFL in turnover differential, and they're tied with the Browns and Broncos for the best mark in the AFC in that category.
The Jets, on the other hand, have struggled. They're 26th in the League at minus-7, and only two teams have turned the ball over more than they have.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said the Texans defense needs to make more "splash plays", and would like to keep the turnover differential number continue to rise.
"We just have to do a better job of really creating turnovers and then wreaking havoc," Mathieu said.
2) Distress Darnold – For the third time this season, the Texans defense will face a rookie that was drafted in the first round last April. Houston beat the Bills and Josh Allen in Week 6, and took care of Baker Mayfield and the Browns two Sundays ago. This time, it's Sam Darnold, who was chosen third overall out of the University of Southern California by the Jets. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said he's impressed with what he's seen thusfar of Darnold.
"Has a lot of ability, can make some throws, but he can hurt you with his feet, also like the others as well," Crennel said. "I think it'll be interesting to see how this game goes and how he performs against us and how we perform against him. But, he does have good qualities."
The Texans sacked Allen twice, and allowed just 10 completions for 84 yards. They picked off Mayfield three times.
Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney said the formula for success against the rookie is a pretty straightforward one.
"We have to corral him and keep him in the pocket," Clowney said. "Same as every week – stop the run and try to keep him in the pocket and force him to make turnovers."
In 10 games this season, Darnold's thrown 12 touchdowns but been picked off 15 times. After missing three games with an injury, he came back last week and completed 16-of-24 passes for 170 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in the win at Buffalo.
Staying disciplined on defense, according to Watt, will be a key to stifling Darnold and the Jets offense.
"He can move around, he can run a bit, so we have to do a good job," Watt said. "Everybody has to stay in their lane, make sure they do their job and keep him contained."
3) Watt's up – Watt continues to dazzle in 2018. The 3-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year leads the team with 12.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles said New York has a "tough" task in trying to limit the damage Watt will do.
"I don't have enough adjectives to say, that everyone hasn't already said," Bowles said. "He's an outstanding football player. He approaches it the right way. He plays it the right way. We got our hands full."
Darnold's been sacked 21 times in the 10 games he's played, and he's well aware of what Watt and Clowney, for that matter, can do.
"It's gameplanning for two really good defensive ends," Darnold said. "For us, it's just about continuing to play our football. Get in and out. For me, it's playing fast. Just being able to move through my progressions pretty fast and understand where everyone is on the field.
Watt continues to move up the all-time sacks list, too. He currently has 88, which puts him in 49th place in NFL history.
4) Deshaun and Discipline – Deshaun Watson didn't turn the ball over, he completed 71 percent of his passes for 267 yards, and ran seven times for 35 yards last Sunday. But the Texans lost, and he described what he would like to do better.
"Just stay disciplined to the system," Watson said. "That was pretty much it. Trust my guys, trust my reads, trust my O-line, hit the opportunities – the deep balls downfield. That was pretty much it. It wasn't anything crazy that we didn't do. We just didn't stick to the system and stay disciplined sometimes."
The Jets all recognize Watson's capabilities, and also say they understand what they must do to stop him.
"He can beat you in the pocket and out of the pocket," Bowles said. "He's a gamer. You speed him up, he's going to hurt you with his legs and hurt you running out of the pocket. If you don't speed him up, he's going to sit in the pocket and throw dimes on you."
5) Air Tight – The Texans tight ends group played its finest game of 2018 last Sunday against the Colts. Ryan Griffin and rookies Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins caught a combined 11 passes for 151 yards. They each had crucial receptions in the contest. Griffin had a 40-yard catch that set up a late touchdown, while Akins' 27-yarder in the first quarter kept a touchdown drive alive. Thomas, meanwhile, snagged a pass with one-hand on 4th down in the first quarter.
"I have a lot of confidence in those guys," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "They're good. They all have different skillsets. All of them can block in their own different ways. Good hands, smart guys, hard workers. I have confidence in all three of those guys."
Griffin led the way with five catches for 80 yards, while Akins had a pair of catches for 40 yards. Thomas caught four passes for 41 yards. Each of the three has a unique set of skills, and the trio continues to improve its chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"The chemistry's getting there," Akins said. "It's still building. The more that we play, the more that we're on the field, the more comfortable he gets. I think this tight end corps is very special. We all bring something different to the table."
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)