The Texans (6-4) return home for a Thursday night matchup with the Colts (6-4). The AFC rivals are tied atop the division, but Indianapolis holds the tiebreaker by virtue of the Week 7 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are five things to watch when the squad kick off inside NRG Stadium at 7:20 p.m. CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Return to 4rm – For the first time in his career, Deshaun Watson started a regular season game the Texans lost by more than a score. It was start 32 for the quarterback, and he's now 20-12 overall since entering the League in 2017. Watson lost a fumble on the opening drive at Baltimore, and threw a second half interception as well. He was sacked six times and Houston was dropped by a final of 41-7. Getting back to the way he normally plays will be a big key in the Texans turning things around against the Colts.
Watson doesn't often make the same error twice, and he explained how he avoids that happening.
"Just the courage, the will just to find ways to get better, just to find ways to try to improve and put that in the mental bank," Watson said. "If you make a mistake, try not to let it affect the team and yourself and your play or opportunity executing a drive, a game, a possession. So, you've just got to try to watch the film and learn as much as you can and learn from that mistake."
Houston's not lost consecutive games this season. They've followed each of their four defeats with a victory, and will look to continue that trend versus Indianapolis. Further, Watson's played well on Thursday night football. His 2017 foray into the prime time game was his first career start, which was a Week 2 win at Cincinnati. Last season, he strafed the Dolphins for five touchdown passes and zero interceptions, and only tossed four incompletions in a 42-23 win.
Linebacker Anthony Walker of the Colts, though, explained what they'll need to do to limit any damage by Watson.
"You've got to be very, very disciplined when you rush him," Walker said. "We've got to keep him in the pocket. Don't give him the B gap escape lane, to just step up and throw the ball, or step up and run."
2) More of the run – While the Texans were able to run for 122 yards and average 6.1 yards per carry last Sunday, much of that production came when the game was out of hand. Getting positive yardage early against Indianapolis, or any team for that matter, helps the offense move and keeps the Texans defense rested.
In the first matchup between the Colts and Texans, Carlos Hyde was limited to just 2.9 yards per carry on 12 rushes, while Duke Johnson got 34 yards on seven carries. Johnson explained the challenge Indianapolis' defense presents against the run.
"They're a strong, physical front seven," Johnson said. "They play very good together. The first time we played them, their defense was very sound. They all knew what they were supposed to do, and they did it."
On the season, the Colts are allowing 96.8 rushing yards a game, which is the ninth best mark in the NFL.
3) Tackle, tackle, tackle – The Texans struggled in multiple areas on Sunday in Baltimore, and on defense their tackling was not what it had been earlier in the season.
Against an Indianapolis run game that powered for 7.3 yards per carry, and racked up 264 yards total against the Jaguars last Sunday, the Texans must wrap up and get Colts to the ground.
"It's got to be better on Thursday night," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "We've been tackling all right, we didn't tackle well overall as defense against the Ravens and we've got to tackle better on Thursday night."
In Week 7 when these two squads met, the Texans limited the Colts to 2.4 yards per carry, and just 64 yards total on the day.
4) Pass defense at a premium – Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett was superb in the first meeting, as he tossed four touchdown passes and completed 67 percent of his passes for 326 yards, without an interception.
Over the middle of the field in particular, he and the Colts were able to get big gains against the Houston defense. In that matchup, the Texans were without starting cornerback Bradley Roby, and fellow starter Johnathan Joseph logged just 13 snaps because of an injury.
There's a good chance Roby and Joseph are active, and the Texans have added cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves, III via trade since then. Near the end of the last game, Xavier Crawford, Keion Crossen and Phillip Gaines were getting snaps at corner.
Hargreaves got to town less than a week ago, and will likely suit up after being inactive at Baltimore. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel described his expectations for Hargreaves.
"We'll find out," Crennel said. "The big thing is he's been with us here about a week now, and he seems to be picking up on the system pretty well. He's communicating within the system, he's got a good attitude. So, we'll line him up and see what he can do."
Hargreaves said he's healthy and ready to go, physically. But he also acknowledged that there's a lot to learn on the fly. Nevertheless, he's ready to contribute.
5) Be different on the differential – Before Sunday's loss in Baltimore, only twice this season had the Texans turned the ball over more than they'd taken it away. At Kansas City and then Indianapolis in consecutive weeks, they were minus-1 in the turnover differential catgory.
Against the Ravens, Houston was minus-2.
Getting back to even or positive, where the Texans are a combined 5-2 this year, is important.
On the whole, Houston is tied for 14th in the NFL at plus-1 on the season. The Colts, meanwhile, are tied for 22nd at minus-3.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)