The Texans (1-1) conclude their preseason slate of games on Sunday night in New Orleans (2-0). Houston and the Saints will meet again in Week 6 of the regular season at NRG Stadium, but here are five things to watch when the two squads kick off in the Caesars Superdome at 7 p.m. CT.
1) Steps for Stroud & Co. – Rookie C.J. Stroud will get his third and final start of the preseason. On Wednesday, Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said Stroud and the first-teamers will likely get about two series of playing time at New Orleans. Ryans, Stroud and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik have been happy with the improvement the second overall pick has made, and they're all looking for more in the last tuneup game before the regular season starts.
"Every day, every week I'm taking strides," Stroud said. "I think the progress from 'OTA C.J.' to now is night and day. As time has gone on I've been able to be more and more comfortable in the offense."
In his first start at New England, Stroud was on the field for 12 snaps, and he completed 2-of-4 passes for 13 yards, with an interception. On Saturday against the Dolphins, the snap count for Stroud climbed to 22. Stroud went 7-of-12 for 60 yards and guided Houston on a field goal drive. Slowik described the game-to-game progress he saw from Stroud.
"You could see the body still was moving fast, [and] the mind definitely slowed down compared to the first game, which is what you need to have at the quarterback position," Slowik said. "He was able to go through his reads, go through his progressions. He still had an aggressive mindset, which we want at that position. As always, in the preseason, there's stuff we have to fix, there's stuff we have to clean up. But yeah, significantly improved."
2) Stay fresh – Every team wants to escape a game without injury, and that's even more important in light of the past week. The Texans and Saints were scheduled to practice together on Thursday and Friday in Metairie, Louisiana. But both teams mutually agreed to call it off on Sunday evening. Ryans pointed to how Houston was a bit "banged up" and decided to re-calibrate things locally.
The Texans proceeded like a normal game week, with practices at the Houston Methodist Training Center on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, before traveling to New Orleans Saturday.
"I thought it was in the best interest of our team and putting our guys first that we shouldn't do the joint practices," Ryans said. "I just felt that it wouldn't have been as productive as we would have liked it to be if we went to New Orleans, but the flip side of it is that we get the opportunity to treat this week as a normal, in-season game week for us."
3) Time for Tank? – After catching a touchdown pass and leading the way with five receptions for 65 yards against the Patriots, wide receiver Tank Dell didn't play on Saturday versus Miami. He warmed up before the game but was held out due to "a little tightness" according to Ryans.
"I thought it wasn't smart to put him out there in this preseason game, but Tank will be fine," Ryans said after Saturday's game.
Dell practiced this week, and it's not been determined whether he'll play or not at New Orleans, but having the rookie pass-catcher in the offense certainly spices things up for the Texans.
4) What's next, Will – Rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr. came up with a sack, a forced fumble and a tackle for loss against the Dolphins, and was a general nuisance for the Miami offense.
Like Stroud, his work in that second preseason contest was a very positive step forward in the opinion of Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke.
"I would say that play is indictive of his progression in the system in terms of attacking and getting off the ball," Burke said. "I think he showed a leap from week one to week two in that there was a slight level of hesitation and tentativeness in the first game. I think he took most of that out of his game last week, so it was good to see him sort of make those steps and progress. Hopefully continues on that trend."
5) Run Stuff – The Texans run defense needs to play more like it did against the Patriots than it did against the Saints. New England had six rushing yards in the first half, and finished with just 78 for the game. A week later, the Dolphins erupted for 205 rushing yards, as four different ball-carriers had a run of 10 yards or longer.
Burke and company believe it's "hugely important" to stop the run, and don't want a repeat of last week's performance.
"I know it's become a passing league, but I would say, just in my history, if you can't stop the run it's impossible to do the other things as well," Burke said. "I think every time we put up slides or musts or whatever we're trying to get done that week, it's always going to be about stopping the run."
New Orleans has averaged 2.9 yards per carry in two preseason games this month.