The Texans (8-4) host the Broncos (4-8) on Sunday in Week 14. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Run better – Head coach Bill O'Brien wants the Texans to get back to running with success. After erupting for 216 yards in the London win over the Jaguars, the Texans went for 122 yards on the ground against Baltimore, then 99 the next week versus Indianapolis. The Patriots held them to 52 yards last Sunday night.
"We need to improve in the running game," O'Brien said. "We're going to work hard on that this week and see if we can get it better. This is a very challenging team, the Broncos, to run the ball against, but we have to – coaches and player alike."
Carlos Hyde has 853 rushing yards in 2019, and explained how the Texans need to execute their game plan on Sunday.
"Just getting back to our basics," Hyde said. "Last week we kind of went away from it. Just getting back to what we do best, and that's getting downhill and getting behind our pads and running hard."
Will Fuller V's speed might actually help the Texans run the ball a little better, "depending on how they play the side that he's aligned on," according to O'Brien.
"It can help you run the ball over to that side a little bit better," O'Brien said. "Yeah, there's a lot of things that having him in the lineup does to help the offense."
2) Spreading the love – Deshaun Watson is the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his four touchdown performance in the win over New England. He caught a touchdown pass from DeAndre Hopkins and tossed three of his own. He found a different pass-catcher for each of those scores, and in all, hit eight different receivers at least once for a reception.
Nobody had more than five catches, and when the game finished, he'd completed 18-of-25 passes for 234 yards.
"You just have to spread the defense out and you put all the skill guys that are very good in the passing game and you make guys cover," Watson said. "It's hard to cover us when we have a little time and guys have a lot more space and they can see it themselves. It's just something that we're very good at and continue to try to even be better at it."
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio has seen a lot of good quarterbacks in his 33 years as an NFL coach. He said Watson came into the League as a good player, who's only improved.
"He's obviously throwing the ball a lot better, more consistently," Fangio said. "He's always been a great improviser and he's even gotten better at that. They've taken advantage of his ability to run the ball with some of the gun, zone read, quarterback potential run driven plays and they're a very tough assignment to try to slow down."
3) Familiar DB's – The Texans welcome back Kareem Jackson, who spent 2010 through 2018 as a starter at corner and safety in Houston. The Broncos, meanwhile, will see Bradley Roby, who was a Denver regular from 2014 through 2018.
Roby's coming off a fantastic performance in the win over the Patriots. He picked off a pass deep in New England territory, sacked Tom Brady on third down later in the game, helped lock up whoever he was assigned to in coverage, and finished with four tackles on the night.
He looks back on his time in Denver "as a blessing". He was a first round selection and a part of a Super Bowl champion. Fangio brought in a whole new staff of assistants, and there are also many new faces in the Broncos locker room.
"The turnover is so crazy," Roby said. "I only played with a couple guys. It's really a whole new team since I was there."
For Jackson, he's looking forward to seeing some old friends. But his focus will be on helping slow down Watson and a talented offense.
"It's obviously tough defending against a quarterback that is a dual threat, that can run just as well as he can pass the ball," Jackson said. "With those weapons that he has, definitely gotta try to keep him in the pocket. In the secondary we've got to be sticky in coverage. We're going to have to plaster because he can keep the play alive."
4) Lock him up – Rookie Drew Lock is under center for the Broncos, and it's his second career start. He was victorious against the Chargers last week, and is hoping to keep that going versus the Texans.
Lock completed 18-of-28 passes for 134 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is impressed with the young signal-caller.
"He's pretty accurate and a lot of times it depends on the weapons that they have around them," Crennel said. "If they got good weapons around them, then that makes them better. So, he's got some weapons that he can use and he can go to. So, if we can take those weapons away, then it would be better for us."
Lock played for Missouri in NRG Stadium when the Tigers faced Texas in the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl.
5) Stop Sutton – Courtland Sutton is having an excellent season at receiver for the Broncos. The second-year pro from SMU has six touchdown catches and 906 receiving yards. He's averaging 16.8 yards per catch, so he helps the Broncos stretch the field.
"He's been playing great," cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. "He makes some unbelievable catches. It doesn't even seem real, the things that he can do on those deep ball, those 50/50 balls. We've got to do a good job of containing him."
There's a good chance the Texans will have Gareon Conly back healthy, so Houston might be armed with a cornerback group of Johnathan Joseph, Roby, Conley, Hargreaves and Lonnie Johnson, Junior.