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Houston Texans

Five things to watch: Texans at Lions


Here are five things to watch when the Texans (9-1, 3-0 AFC South) take on the Detroit Lions (4-6, 0-4 NFC North) on Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field in Detroit. Kickoff is Thursday at 11:30 a.m. CT.

1. WR showcase: Billed by some as "Megatron" (Calvin Johnson) vs. "Optimus Prime" (Andre Johnson), Thursday's game will feature two of the NFL's elite wide receivers who are both at the top of their respective games.

Detroit's Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236), who's 27, leads the league with 1,117 receiving yards on 65 catches (17.2 average). He has three receiving touchdowns. Johnson led the league with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He has three 1,000-yard seasons in five years and has averaged 81.3 yards per game in his career. The Texans may have to defend him without Pro Bowl cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who is questionable to play with a hamstring injury.

"It's going to be a challenge for the whole back end," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Anybody can get matched up on the big guy. Obviously, he's as good as there is in the game. That's where they're trying to go with the ball, very explosive offensively. It's going to be a matter of us limiting big plays. We can't let them get way down the field and let them make the big, big plays that he is accustomed to making. If J-Joe is not there, that burden is going to fall on everybody's shoulders, not one guy."

Houston's Andre Johnson (6-3, 230), who's 31, is ranks eighth in the NFL with 870 yards. He's coming off a franchise-record 14-catch, 273-yard receiving game against Jacksonville. He leads the NFL with 117.4 receiving yards per game over the last six weeks, ahead of Calvin Johnson's 115.7; the next-closest receiver over that span (Vincent Jackson) has averaged 93.2. Johnson has averaged 79.7 yards per game in his career.

2. Applying pressure: The Texans have let it be known that they have a plan to try to stop Calvin Johnson: Not give strong-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford ample time to get the ball to him.

"The guy is such a big, strong target," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "We're going to have to have good coverage on him, but we need to pressure the quarterback enough where he can't set and throw it to him deep all the time, certainly, because he's so big. He can go up and get it, even if you have two people on him."

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt led the NFL in sacks until last week, when he was passed by Denver's Von Miller and San Francisco's Aldon Smith. Smith now has 15 sacks, Miller 13 and Watt 11.5 on the season. Lions center Dominic Raiola publicly challenged Watt this week to "bring it on."

"As a defensive lineman, my mentality is if they can't get the ball to (Johnson), then he's not going to make too many plays," Watt said. "That's my goal is to make it tough on their quarterback."

Outside linebacker Connor Barwin also could be in store for a big game. A Detroit native, Barwin will have dozens of family and friends at the game, which will be his first on any level in Detroit since high school. Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, who has started 186 consecutive games, is doubtful to play, leaving rookie Riley Reiff as the likely starter and Barwin's counterpart.

3. Defensive rebound: The Texans' defense will look to rebound from its worst performance of the season, but they'll have to do so against one of the offenses in the NFL.

With Stafford at the helm, the Lions lead the NFL with 301.8 passing yards per game and lead the NFC with 401.7 total yards per game. The Texans allowed a season-high 458 yards last week to the Jaguars, who ranked last in offense prior to the game.

"The most important stat of all is winning," Phillips said on Tuesday. "And I think the next most-important thing with a football team is how you play under pressure. This last game really showed me what kind of team we have. In the fourth quarter, we had 14 first downs on offense and they had one. I mean, the game was on the line. The pressure was on us, we were behind by 14 points and those guys came through… With the pressure on you, the game's on the line, you find out a lot about people, and I thought we found out a lot of good things."

Even after last week, the Texans still rank fourth in defense (299.2 yards/game) and fourth in points allowed (18.0). They're seventh in passing defense (213.6) and second in rushing (85.6) and have still not allowed a rushing touchdown all season. This game will provide a chance to show they can limit a top quarterback, as the Texans have struggled under Phillips against the likes of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

4. Foster's feast?: Texans running back Arian Foster has been a workhorse this season, churning out rushing yards while leading the league with by a wide margin with 249 carries.

Foster leads the AFC and ranks fourth in the NFL with 949 rushing yards. He leads the league with 12 total touchdowns. With 51 more yards, he'll become the first running back in team history to top 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

The fourth-year running back has been particularly good on the road and in the national spotlight. Foster has run for more than 100 yards in each of his last five road games, averaging 26.8 carries and 125.4 yards per game. Including the playoffs, he has topped 100 rushing yards in seven of eight nationally-televised games in his career, averaging 22.9 carries and 112.3 yards.

"The lights go on for him all the time," Kubiak said. "He loves to play. He's a worker… That's just the way he is. He's a worker, and that's when he's at his best."

The Lions are rank 16th against the run (114.1 yards per game). But with Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril at end, it's one of the most physical defensive lines the Texans will face all season.

5. Lineup questions: Five Texans players will be game-time decisions, meaning they could have significant lineup changes on Thursday.

If Joseph is unable to play, the Texans would lose a lockdown corner who typically blankets the opposing team's best receiver every game. Alan Ball would, who broke up a pass in overtime last week, would start in Joseph's place.

Nose tackle Shaun Cody, who played for the Lions from 2005-08, has a ribs injury and is also questionable. Earl Mitchell has started the last two games in his place.

Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, who has started the last four games, is questionable with a shoulder injury. The Texans already have announced that Darryl Sharpton will start Thursday because of how well Sharpton played last week and because Dobbins is banged up.

Running back Ben Tate, out since Week 9 with a hamstring injury, also is questionable. Tate made significant progress this week and has a chance to return as the primary backup to Arian Foster, although Justin Forsett has played well in his absence. Rookie wide receiver DeVier Posey, who has contributed primarily on special teams, has knee and hamstring injuries and is doubtful to play.

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