The Texans (6-3) are atop the AFC South and hit the road this weekend for a Sunday matchup with the NFC East-leading Redskins (6-3). It’s the first meeting between the franchises since Week 1 of 2014, and the first time at FedExField since 2010, and the Texans won both of those matchups. Here are five things to watch when Houston and Washington kickoff at noon CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Do it, Deshaun – Quarterback Deshaun Watson is playing splendidly in 2018, but over the last three contests, he’s pushed it to a whole new level. He’s completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 591 yards, with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. During the six-game win streak, he’s passed for 1,518 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, and completed 68.2 percent of his throws.
Those numbers are noteworthy, but Watson’s impressed his newest teammate in a different way: with his leadership.
“I didn’t know it was his second year,” receiver Demaryius Thomas said. “The main thing is how he takes control of the huddle. I played with a couple of young guys that did take control of the huddle, and nothing against those guys, it’s just that he does it a different way.”
If you ask Watson what’s going well, he keeps it simple in his explanation.
“Just managing the game, doing what I need to do to operate the offense, get points on the board, move the ball down the field and protect the ball.” Watson said. “That’s the biggest thing, is the operation and protecting the ball and trying to get points on the board.”
The Washington defense said the task in front of them with Watson in command of the offense is a mighty one. Linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons even compared Watson to a future Hall of Famer.
“He’s more of like an Aaron Rodgers,” Harvey-Clemons said. “He’s going to scramble, but he’s still looking to get the ball downfield, and he has great receivers that make spectacular catches. We just basically have to try to keep him bottled up.”
2) Texans WR corps vs. Washington DB group – It’s the second game Thomas will suit up as a Houston Texan, and he’s got a better command of the playbook than he did at Denver. Getting extra work in with Watson was beneficial as well, according to Thomas.
“I think it helped, but you’ve also got to get the repetitions, too,” Thomas said. “Repetitions really help more. It’s doing it instead of seeing it. I got a chance to be with D4 (Deshaun Watson), I was with him as well, so it was mainly just hearing it and then walking through it."
There’s a chance the Texans will add rookie Keke Coutee back to the offense as well, as he’s been sidelined the last two games with a hamstring injury. In the four contests he’s played, he’s averaged five catches per game.
“I think Keke’s got a chance,” head coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think it’ll be a game-time decision but I think he’s got a chance to play in the game.”
Those two pass-catchers put a lot of stress on any defense. But that stress is nothing compared to the headaches the game’s greatest receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, causes.
“You can rank them however you want to, it doesn’t matter – 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1F – whatever it is, he’s No. 1 as far as guys that I’ve seen,” Washington head coach Jay Gruden said. “His route-running ability sets him apart. He’s got great hands, great route-runner, physical, can play physical, tracks the ball as good as anybody. He is everything you want in a wide receiver."
Washington linebacker Zach Brown is looking forward to the matchup between Hopkins and cornerback Josh Norman. The latter will likely matchup with the former quite a bit on Sunday. Brown said Norman will have his hands full, but will also be ready.
“There are very few that can deal with him,” Brown said. “Josh, I think he’s always up for the challenge. Can’t wait to watch it.”
3) Yo Adrian – The Redskins have lost three times this season. When they fell to the Colts, running back Adrian Peterson gained 20 yards on 11 carries. In the loss at New Orleans, he ran four times for six yards. In the defeat versus the Falcons, he picked up 17 yards on nine rushes.
The difference between wins and losses with Peterson’s involvement is stark: he’s averaged 22 carries for 105 yards in the six wins, and eight carries for 14 yards in the six losses.
Bottle up Peterson, and you’ll likely win the game. But that’s easier said than done.
“I have a ton of respect for his game,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “It’s always a good challenge to play against him and I enjoy the competition. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Last year when Peterson was a Cardinal, the Texans held him to 26 yards on 14 carries. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel explained how.
“We got everybody to the ball,” Crennel said. “I think with runners, if you can take away their space and then get guys to the ball, then I think you’ve got a chance to get them on the ground. But, a lot of times, one guy trying to make a tackle on a runner is difficult when the runner is a good runner. But, if you have two or three guys there, even if the first guy missed, now the second and third guy can get him down. So, I think that’s critical for us in this game, is to make sure we have a lot of guys around the ball.”
4) Mr. Smith’s gone to Washington - Quarterback Alex Smith has played relatively well against the Texans since he entered the NFL as a rookie in 2005. He’s been under center a combined seven times if you count regular season and playoff games, and his team has won five of those seven. It’s the fourth season in a row Smith will face the Texans, and the fifth game in that time. The previous four were with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he was on the winning side in three of those contests.
Smith’s with the Redskins now, and he’s tossed 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But it’s his legs, according to outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, that have been the biggest challenge over the years for the Houston defense.
“You have to bottle him up, keep him in the pocket because the guy can make a lot of plays outside the pocket with his legs,” Clowney said. “That’s always been our problem playing against Alex Smith, even when he was in Kansas City, his running ability.”
Smith’s been judicious with his legs this year, averaging just four scrambles a game for 15 yards. But it’s his ability to buy time with his legs that’s burned the Texans in the past, and they’ll look to control that aspect of Smith’s game on Sunday
5) TO on the TO’s – The Texans have won six in a row largely because they’ve been positive or even in turnover differential in each of those victories. With six more takeaways than turnovers in that span, Houston’s now at plus-4 on the season, which is tied for the 9th best mark in the NFL.
But the Redskins are better in that category. By a lot.
Washington is third in the League with a plus-11. With 18 takeaways compared to just seven turnovers, the Redskins have been excellent at taking care of the ball, and capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes with ball security. Watson pointed to the ball-hawking skills of the Redskins when he was asked this week about what sets the defense apart.
“Turnovers,” Watson said. “I think they’re top-ten, top-five in the league in taking the ball away, so they’ve been doing a great job of getting the ball and turning the ball over and getting their offense on the field. We have to do a good job of protecting the ball and really executing.”
Hopkins doubled-up Watson’s praise for the Washington defense.
“They’re young, talented, get a lot of turnovers, lead the league or top in the league in turnovers,” Hopkins said. “They’re a ballhawking defense.”
Watson and company have matched that over the last trio of games, though. For the first time in franchise history, the Texans have gone three straight without committing a turnover, and they’ve managed five takeaways in the last three contests.
“It’s one of the reasons why we’ve won games,” O’Brien said. “It’s one of the reasons why they’ve won games, and so I think with Deshaun, he really understands that and is trying to do the best he can to make great decisions.”
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 5/20/2019)