The Texans have played NFL football for 20 years as this is the 20th season of the franchise. There might be no stranger outing than the one that will commence on the day after Christmas at NRG Stadium. Two NFL teams, the Texans and the Los Angeles Chargers, will seemingly step into the building to do football battle and no one has any real idea who will be available to start, play or contribute in the game. The Los Angeles Chargers played last Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs in one of the best games of the season.
Chargers star DE Joey Bosa had five tackles and a sack; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Chargers starting CB Tevaughn Campbell had six tackles; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Chargers S Trey Marshall was second on the team with seven tackles; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Chargers Pro Bowl C Corey Linsley started the game at center; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
The Texans have been just as decimated.
Texans star WR Brandin Cooks had two receiving TDs at Jacksonville in the win over the Jaguars; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Texans DL Derek Rivers had a sack and a TRL; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Texans K Kai'mi Fairbairn has nailed 61-, 52- and 51-yard field goals in the last two weeks; he was placed on COVID reserve list this week.
Seven DL have now gone on the COVID reserve list in the past ten days.
It's exhausting to think of all the different combinations of players that are going to miss this game. Each team should be able to get a player or two back, but how many and who those will be remains a mystery. The Chargers did activate star rookie OT Rashawn Slater (Clements HS in Sugar Land) who missed the Chiefs game.
Tough though it may be, each team, at this point, will trot out a former Pac-12 star QB to lead each offense. We've seen the maturation of Texans rookie QB Davis Mills (Stanford) this season and how far he's come in his seven starts. Chargers QB Justin Herbert (Oregon) has turned the league into his romper room as he toys with defenses with his howitzer of a right arm, moxie and toughness. The two have never faced off as starters and here's hoping both stay healthy enough to take the field on Sunday.
Adapt. Adjust. Get ready to play ball. All anyone can do at this point. As such, let's get to know the Los Angeles Chargers, visiting Houston for the first time since 2016.
2021 Schedule (8-6)
Week 1 - W @ Washington Football Team 20-16
Week 2 - L Dallas Cowboys 20-17
Week 3 - W @ Kansas City Chiefs 30-24
Week 4 - W Las Vegas Raiders 28-14
Week 5 - W Cleveland Browns 47-42
Week 6 - L @ Baltimore Ravens 34-6
Week 7 - BYE
Week 8 - L New England Patriots 27-24
Week 9 - W @ Philadelphia Eagles 27-24
Week 10 - L Minnesota Vikings 27-20
Week 11 - W Pittsburgh Steelers 41-37
Week 12 - L @ Denver Broncos 28-13
Week 13 - W @ Cincinnati Bengals 41-22
Week 14 - W New York Giants 37-21
Week 15 - L Kansas City Chiefs 34-28 (OT)
Week 16 - @ Houston Texans
Week 17 - Denver Broncos
Week 18 - @ Las Vegas Raiders
Chargers OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 111.1 ypg (18th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 277.1 ypg (7th)
Total offense per game - 388.3 ypg (4th)
Turnovers lost - 17 (5 Fumbles lost, 12 INT)
Expected Chargers starting offense for Week 16
QB - Justin Herbert
RB - Austin Ekeler (placed on COVID reserve list)/Justin Jackson
WR - Jalen Guyton (placed on COVID reserve list)/JOSH PALMER
WR - Keenan Allen
WR - Mike Williams
TE - JARED COOK
LT - RASHAWN SLATER (activated off of the COVID reserve list this week)
LG - MATT FEILER
C - Corey Linsley (placed on COVID reserve list)/Scott Quessenberry
RG - MICHAEL SCHOFIELD
RT - Storm Norton
Key Offensive Non-Starters
RB - Joshua Kelley
OT - Trey Pipkins
WR/TE - Stephen Anderson
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Chargers Offense
- Herbert's Howitzer - I was at the Senior Bowl in 2020, studying prospects like I always do, when it was time for one-on-one drills. WR v. DB. One-on-one competition at its best, yet as the drill started all I could do was hone in on the QB throwing the missiles - Justin Herbert. I had seen him make a few hundred throws on tape and knew that he had a big arm, but these throws were 30-35 yards on a rope with absolute precision. This performance, this arm strength and that accuracy were different from anything I saw on tape. He was locked in and locked on that day and it continued all the way through the week. From that day forward, Herbert hasn't run into any defense that could truly slow him down. His deep ball acumen is as good as anyone in the league even though he's just in his second year in the NFL. The biggest problem that Herbert presents is the ability to move to one side of the field, or the other, and throw back to the other side short, intermediate and deep. He threw a TD against the Giants in which he threw it 65-yards in the air on a dime to the left side as he rolled to the right to avoid pressure. Sick, SICK throw. He's wickedly talented and there isn't a defender in coverage that can relax when Herbert has the ball in his hands.
- Slater's Slickness - It's not as if the Chargers missed their star rookie Rashawn Slater last week against the Chiefs. Herbert wasn't even sacked in that game, but it's really nice to have the rookie Pro Bowler back this weekend. Well, for the Chargers anyway. He stepped in on day one after opting out of the 2020 college season and hasn't looked back. He's the complete left tackle with pop in his pads, strong hands and dancing bear-like feet. Regardless of who is rushing from the edge this week for the Texans, Slater will be primed and ready, returning to his hometown for this matchup.
- Justin's Jackson - RB Austin Ekeler was put on the COVID reserve list this week, meaning that Justin Jackson will more than likely step into the starting lineup against the Texans. Then again, Jackson plays like a starter anyway, so it's not like there's a dropoff in the slightest. Jackson actually had one more rush than Ekeler against the Chiefs last Thursday and averaged over 6.5 yards per carry on 13 totes. Jackson runs behind his pads and has plenty of power/strength to break through weak tackle attempts. Considering how ravaged the Texans front seven is at this point, Jackson's presence worries me a ton.
Chargers DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 136.8 ypg (29th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 221.8 ypg (10th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 358.6 ypg (22nd)
Turnovers generated - 20 (11 INT, 9 Fumble recoveries - Chargers are +3 in TO margin)
Expected Chargers starting defense for Week 16
Edge - Kenneth Murray
DT/DE - Jerry Tillery
DT - Linval Joseph
DT/DE - Justin Jones
Edge - Uchenna Nwosu
LB - Kyzir White
LB - Drue Tranquill
Nickel - Chris Harris Jr.
CB - Michael Davis/Tevaughn Campbell (placed on COVID reserve list)
S - Nasir Adderley
S - Derwin James
CB - ASANTE SAMUEL JR.
Key Defensive Non-Starters
S - TREY MARSHALL (placed on COVID reserve list)
OLB - CHRIS RUMPH (placed on COVID reserve list)
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Chargers Defense
- Bosa's Being (gone) - The Chargers inked 2016 first round pick Joey Bosa to a massive deal in the summer before the 2020 season. That was as wise a decision as the organization could make and he's been a stud baller in 2021, his sixth year in the league. He has accounted for 9.5 sacks and was voted to the 2022 Pro Bowl. But, due to COVID issues, he won't play on Sunday at NRG Stadium. What does that mean for the Texans offense? If he were playing, there would be multiple resources that would've needed to account for him on nearly every play. He would demand chips from RBs, don't have to do that anymore. He'd demand double teams from tight ends, don't have to go overboard in that arena anymore. His absence is a big one on the edge in this matchup with the Chargers.
- Derwin's Dominance - I saw Derwin James for the first time when he was a freshman at Florida State. I thought I was seeing the future of the position in front of my eyes. The only thing that could slow that train was injuries and that's, unfortunately, what has slowed the "Derwin James is the best defensive player in the league" train, if you will. Now healthy in 2021, he's shown how tough it is to find him, account for him and minimize his impact. James lines up all over the field and can change the game with a rock solid hit, some pristine pass coverage or a well timed blitz and pressure. The Texans must understand his role on each play, know where he is and account for a healthy Derwin James.
- Run D Resistance? - When Brandon Staley took over as head coach, I quickly assumed that given the talent on the Chargers defensive front and linebackers, the run defense would be outstanding. However, the Chargers run defense has been anything but this year, yielding the fourth worst yards per game average in the league. Now, the Texans aren't going to turn into the Cleveland Browns or Indianapolis Colts overnight, but last week at Jacksonville, the ability of the run game to produce two to three yards a pop on first down helped produce makeable third downs (ten of 18 conversion on third down). That was a quiet key to the game so in small chunks the run game made an impact. If the Texans produce even more on first down this week, the offense can hopefully keep the game moving, the clock running and the Chargers defense reeling.