For the second week in a row, the Texans will face one of the hottest teams in the NFL in its own building. This time, though, they'll do it on a short week. Last week, the Texans headed into Nashville to face the Titans, winners of their previous four games and six of the previous seven, and left with a 24-21 win. So, this week the Texans fly to Tampa for a Saturday game against smoking-hot quarterback Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have won four straight games, including two over AFC South foes, and five of their last six games overall.
Winston has been a major reason why. Over the past two weeks, Winston threw for 914 yards and eight touchdowns in wins over the Colts at home and on the road at Detroit. This season, he has thrown for 4,573 yards (first in the league) and 30 passing touchdowns (second in the league). He's had the services of Pro Bowl receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans all season, but Evans was placed on injured reserve this week with a hamstring issue and Godwin left last week's game against the Lions on a cart with a hamstring issue as well. Yet, even with those two out of the lineup, the Buccaneers offense with Winston at the helm is a scary, SCARY bunch.
Defensively, the Buccaneers are the epitome of a Dickens novel - the best of times, the worst of times. The front seven, led by interior stars Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Lavonte David and rookie Devin White, is shutting down the run. The defense is first in the league against the run and with those four on the field, there's no secret why. Edge rusher Shaq Barrett leads the league in sacks with 16.5, but the pass defense has been shredded. The group in the back features a handful of rookies and it's been baptism by fire for that young, yet talented secondary throughout the season. The Bucs are second to last in the league in passing yards allowed but in the last few weeks, they've done a much better job holding teams in check. Since losing to the Saints five weeks ago, they've allowed just four passing touchdowns and picked off five passes. The flip side is that they beat a banged up Matt Ryan, Nick Foles/Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett and David Blough, not a murderer's row of quarterbacks. So, here comes two-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson and the biggest challenge for the Buccaneers defense since facing Drew Brees over a month ago.
Without further ado, let's get to know the NFC South's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2019 Schedule - Record 7-7
L, San Francisco 49ers 31-17
W, @ Carolina Panthers 20-14
L, New York Giants 32-31
W, @ Los Angeles Rams 55-40
L, @ New Orleans Saints 31-24
L, Carolina Panthers 37-26
L, @ Tennessee Titans 27-23
L, @ Seattle Seahawks 40-34
W, Arizona Cardinals 30-27
L, New Orleans Saints 34-17
W, @ Atlanta Falcons 35-22
W, @ Jacksonville Jaguars 28-11
W, Indianapolis Colts 38-35
W, @ Detroit Lions 38-17
Week 16 - Houston Texans
Week 17 - @ Atlanta Falcons
Buccaneers Offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 91.4 ypg (T27th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 308.8 ypg (1st)
Total offense per game - 400.1 ypg (3rd)
Turnovers lost - 33 (24 INT, 9 fumbles lost)
Projected Buccaneers starting offense for Saturday afternoon's game vs. Texans:
QB - Jameis Winston
RB - Ronald Jones II
WR - BRESHAD PERRIMAN
*WR - Chris Godwin (Pro Bowler - injured hamstring last week at Detroit – will not play)
WR - Justin Watson
TE - O.J. Howard
TE - Cameron Brate
LT - Donovan Smith (injured last week, missed game vs. Detroit)
LG - Ali Marpet
C - Ryan Jensen
RG - Alex Cappa
RT - Demar Dotson
*Wide receivers Mike Evans (Pro Bowler) and Scotty Miller placed on IR this week.
Other Key Offensive Pieces:
WR - ISHMAEL HYMAN
RB - Dare Ogunbowale
OT - JOSH WELLS
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Buccaneers offense:
1. Provide a consistently-changing picture for Winston. Keep spinning the dial regardless of how many times similar situations pop up during the game.
2. Keep it in front at all times. Winston doesn't like to dink and dunk - he wants to hit triples and home runs, if you will. Force him to keep hitting singles which will force him to get impatient.
3. If left tackle Donovan Smith doesn't play, attack that side of the rush with myriad opportunities like overloads, speed rushers, power guys. Keep changing speed on his backup.
4. It's quite alright to use a cornerback on their tight ends Cam Brate and O.J. Howard. They're just as valuable to the Bucs this week as receivers than anything else.
5. Go get the football. There will be opportunities to go get it, so do so.
Buccaneers Defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 73.3 ypg (1st in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 276.8 ypg (30th)
Total offense allowed per game - 350.1 ypg (15th)
Turnovers generated - 25 (11 INT,14 fumble recoveries - Buccaneers are -8 in TO margin)
Projected Buccaneers starting defense for Saturday afternoon's game vs. Texans:
OLB - Shaq Barrett
DE - NDAMUKONG SUH
NT - VIta Vea
DE - William Gholston
OLB - Carl Nassib
ILB - DEVIN WHITE (rookie)
ILB - Lavonte David
CB - Carlton Davis
S - MIKE EDWARDS (rookie)
S - ANDREW ADAMS (rookie)
CB - SEAN MURPHY-BUNTING (rookie)
*Safety Jordan Whitehead, placed on IR this week
Other Key Defensive Pieces:
CB - JAMEL DEAN (rookie)
DE - Jason Pierre-Paul
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Buccaneers defense:
1. Formation window dressing sometimes doesn't matter all that much, but with a bunch of rookies in the secondary, it might get them confused and lead to big plays.
2. If three guys are needed to handle Vea and Suh to be able to run the ball on the inside, go ahead and do it.
3. How many different ways can the Texans run the ball? They may need different ways to "run the ball" in a non-traditional sense against this stout front seven.
4. The combination of Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde on the field together is a good one and can be problematic with the right combination of receivers on the field.
5. Weather may be an issue as rain is in the forecast for this game, so ball handling is at an all-time high premium against a team that has taken it away 25 times this year (the Bucs are sixth in the league in takeaways).
Check out the best Week 15 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.