The Texans (4-3) host the Dolphins (4-3) on Thursday Night Football. It's the first meeting between these squads since 2015. Here are five things to watch when Houston and Miami kick off inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Tough Guy Watson- Over the last year or so, we've used many words to describe quarterback Deshaun Watson. Dynamic. Playmaker. Leader. Calm.
We can now add 'tough' to that list.
Watson's played through a chest injury the last three games, and it was one that prevented him from flying to Jacksonville last week. So he rode a bus 12 hours there, guided the Texans to a victory, and got back on the bus for a 12-hour trip back to Houston.
"He's tough, man," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "He's everything we're trying to be, really as a football team, which is a tough team."
A Thursday night game is tough on all NFL players, as they're playing just four short days after their last contest. Watson said he's feeling "a lot better" than he has the last three weeks.
"A week in the training room, being able to do what I do and get more healthy, it was a great feeling to just go out there and not have to really worry about anything and just kind of play free," Watson said.
At Jacksonville he played a turnover-free game, led the offense on scoring drives in three of the first four possessions, and tossed a third quarter touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins that gave the Texans a 20-0 lead.
2) Keep the engine running- Lamar Miller rushed for 100 yards against the Jaguars, and the Texans could use another effort like that on Thursday night. It was his first 100-yard performance since Week 16 of the 2016 season, and as a team, the Texans gained 141 yards on 37 carries.
"When you can establish the line of scrimmage, it really opens up many things," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Meaning, maybe they have to bring an extra guy down in there to help defend the run or maybe it helps your play action. If you cannot run the ball, it's very difficult in this league, I believe the way that we're constructed, it's very difficult to score points."
The Miami defense has struggled in that department, allowing an average of 136.7 yards per game, which is 29th in the NFL. The Texans are smack dab in the middle of the League as a rushing offense, gaining 113.7 yards per contest. Getting that number to rise against the Dolphins would likely go a long way toward helping them get a win, and keeping Watson free from damage.
3) Osweiler on deck- The Dolphins come to town with Brock Osweiler starting under center. It's the quarterback's first trip to NRG Stadium since he started the AFC Wild Card playoff against the Raiders in early January of 2017. With Ryan Tannehill out due to injury, Osweiler's started the last two contests for Miami, throwing a combined five touchdowns and two interceptions and completing 75 percent of his passes for over 600 yards.
The Texans know quite a bit about their 2016 teammate, and say they respect his capabilities.
"Very bright guy, really understands the system, competitive guy, knows where to go with the ball, really studies tape, understands what's going on defensively, doing a good job getting the ball out," O'Brien said. "He's doing a good job."
Defensive end J.J. Watt echoed his head coach.
"I think he's had a good couple weeks," Watt said of Osweiler. "He's thrown for a lot of yards, he's done some good things over there, so we have to go out there and play well. The biggest thing we have to do is control what we can control, and that's go out there, do our assignments, execute, play our game and let the chips fall where they may."
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph stressed that the Texans must take a clinical approach to the matchup, despite the familiarity with Osweiler.
"Different scheme, different things," Joseph said. "We'll get to watch film and kind of see where he is as a player, but it's nothing like the Texans versus Brock, it's the Miami Dolphins versus the Houston Texans and you definitely can't get caught up in that."
4) Rock Brock: The Texans know the importance of getting after Osweiler, and Miami is mindful of how menacing the Houston pass rush can be with the likes of Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and the rest. Four was a key number last Sunday, as the Texans defense rang up four sacks against the Jaguars, while Osweiler was sacked four times in the Dolphins' loss to the Lions.
Miami head coach Adam Gase said the challenge in pass protection versus Watt and Clowney will be a stiff one.
"They're horrible to go against, let's just put it that way," Gase said. "When you have both of those guys on the edges, they just make it very difficult to do anything, whether it be running or passing the ball. You have to account for both of those guys, which is hard to do."
Gase likened the duo to a "hand grenade" going off in the backfield, as the two have combined this season for 17 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
"Our guys just have to do a good job of using their help when they have it and we just have to try to make sure that those guys don't create turnovers," Gase said.
Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is impressed by Osweiler's ability to fit the ball in tight windows to his receivers.
"We have to be concerned about that and try to see if we can get him off the spot and not let him get comfortable back there because he does have a good arm," Crennel said. "He's a tall quarterback and he's experienced, so it'll be a challenge."
5) TO on the TO's- The Texans didn't turn the ball over last Sunday, and registered three takeaways against the Jaguars. On the season, they're now plus-2 in the turnover differential category, which is tied for 11th in the NFL.
One of the other teams in that 11-spot? The Dolphins.
In the four game win streak, Houston's either been even or on the positive side of the turnover differential equation. It's no coincidence that the four victories and being a combined plus-4 in that span go together.
"Playing mistake-free football, not having a lot of turnovers, those things like that help you win games in the NFL," Hopkins said.
Kareem Jackson has tallied a forced fumble, recovered fumble or interception in four of the seven games the Texans have played this year, and the safety/cornerback has frequently been around the football on a regular basis.