The Texans (4-3) return home for a Week 8 matchup with Oakland (3-3). Here are five things to watch when the two squads kickoff at 3:25 p.m. CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Clean it up – In spite of 10 costly penalties, a pair of interceptions, and a few other mistakes last Sunday, the Texans still had a chance to tie the game on their final possession at Indianapolis. Shaving down those errors could go a long way towards ensuring victory.
"We made too many mistakes, whether a guy didn't report eligible, or an ineligible number reporting eligible or false starts, or missed assignments," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Whatever it is, we've got to be more mistake-free on offense. When we gain positive yards on first down, we're able to get into a rhythm, it's usually a decent drive for us and we just didn't do that enough."
With 57 penalties in 2019, the Texans are tied for the 5th-most on the NFL this season. The Raiders, meanwhile, have committed 48 this year, in six games played.
Houston's also been underwater in each of the last two weeks in turnover differential. While the Texans have managed to come up with a takeaway in every game this season, and still own the League's longest current streak in doing so with 20 straight games, they turned it over more than they took it away.
On the season, the Texans are even in that category, which is tied for 16th in the NFL. Oakland is 21st in the League, at minus-2.
2) Conley Debut? – The Texans secondary has taken some hits the last few weeks, as starting cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Johnathan Joseph, reserve corner Phillip Gaines, and safety Tashaun Gipson have all missed time or will miss time, because of injury.
Gaines is finished for the season, and Roby will be out for awhile. Joseph was inactive at Kansas City, and left the game early last week in Indianapolis. He remains hopeful, though, about playing the Raiders.
"It's not the first time having this thing before, so obviously I know how to deal with hit, navigate my way throughout the week," Joseph said. "But I think right now, I'm on track."
As for Conley, he's glad to have a fresh start in Houston.
"It's real exciting," Conley said. "I'm excited about the pass rush, the guys that I'll be with. Got a couple guys Roby, Carlos (Hyde) that I know already."
Conley's spent extra time after practice with Joseph and the rest of the defensive backs looking at tape and absorbing the playbook.
Oakland receiver Tyrell Williams said playing against Conley will "definitely be weird", and Raiders wideout Hunter Renfrow agreed.
"It'll be different," Renfrow said. "Usually he's wearing our jersey and he'll be wearing somebody else's. But he's a good player and we'll have to play well."
3) Pour it on – With DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee, quarterback Deshaun Watson has weapons aplenty at the receiver spot. They'll be matched up with a secondary that traded away Conley, and will likely see rookie Trayvon Mullen get some work. The Raiders pass defense is next-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed per game with 289.8, so Watson and company will have their chances.
"They have some young guys out there," Hopkins said. "When you have young guys on the football field, they're trying to make plays. So it's going to be a challenge for us to go out and make more plays than them."
Hopkins, who finished with nine catches for 106 yards and a touchdown last week at Indianapolis, likes having other weapons alongside him in this offense.
"It's awesome," Hopkins said. "When you play with a quarterback like Deshaun, he spreads the ball around and that's helping us win. Everybody on this offense feels like they can make a play and obviously they've proven they can."
Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said the variety of skillsets from the pass-catchers can lead to anyone showing up huge on gameday.
"We have a versatile room who comes to work every day and that shows up basically on Sunday when you can see different guys stepping up and having big days," Kelly said.
4) D up on Derek – Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is guiding a Raiders offense that can run the ball effectively, and is solid through the air. He's not been sacked much this season, as Carr's been dropped just eight times in six games. In three of those contests, he wasn't sacked at all.
He's completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 1,410 yards, with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Linebacker Dylan Cole is impressed with Carr.
"He's very calm," Cole said. "Before the play, he's looking and just trying to see what the defense is doing. You can tell he's a leader for that team."
Linebacker Whitney Mercilus echoed Cole's sentiments on Carr's leadership.
"He's just sitting back there in the pocket, taking control of the offense, as far as the tempo and all that" Mercilus said. "It's going to be another challenging deal."
5) Run game vs. Run game – As they did last week in the Colts, the Texans will face a run game that ranks in the League's Top 10.
The Raiders are sixth in the NFL 137.8 yards per, while Houston's a couple ticks behind them in eighth at 134.1. Corralling the Oakland backs, while getting the likes of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson loose, is important for the Texans.
"It opens up, for any offense, the play actions and different movements of the linebackers," Watson said. "The linebackers have to respect that, D-lineman have to think we'll run first, so they've got to get geared up to that when we play-action or bootleg outside of that. The run game is really the definition of really the majority of the offenses in the NFL that you've got to start with. You've got to establish that line of scrimmage."
Oakland head coach Jon Gruden has seen his featured back, Josh Jacobs, rumble for 554 yards and four touchdowns this season. The rookie from Alabama's cracked the 100-yard mark in each of the last two contests, and Gruden likes what Jacobs has meant to the offense.
"We needed a guy that could be the feature, focal point of our offense, and we are becoming a balanced team, which has been our goal since day one," Gruden said. "We've improved our offensive line and we've had some balance the last three weeks. Personally I think that's the hardest thing to defend – balance. Jacobs is a guy that's really given us that."
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)