The Texans (2-0) conclude their preseason slate on Thursday evening against San Francisco (2-0). Here are five things to watch when the two squads kick off inside NRG Stadium at 7:00 p.m. CT.
1) 1st-team offense
With more starters filing back into the mix for the preseason finale, it will be a bit better gauge of how Quarterback Davis Mills and the offense might perform in the regular season. In addition to being without a pair of linemen and Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks, the Texans were without Tight End Pharaoh Brown and Running Back Dameon Pierce in Los Angeles.
On top of the mixing-and-matching, lineup-wise, it's also important to remember Head Coach Lovie Smith and the assistants are keeping things very basic during the preseason.
"Obviously in the preseason you don't want to show your best stuff," Wide Receiver Phillip Dorsett said. "Brandin hasn't even played yet, so we're not showing a lot. You've got to keep a lot of it secret. The coach is going to be watching. We're going to open it up eventually, but not yet."
Mills led the offense on a half-ending touchdown drive against the Rams, his lone scoring drive of the preseason. But Smith isn't concerned.
"I wouldn't put too much into it," Smith said. "We like what we're getting in practice. Those guys are healthy, will be ready to go when we need to go."
2) Familiar faces return
Through the first two preseason contests, the starters on both sides of the ball have seen limited or zero action. Mills played a pair of series in the opener against New Orleans, and then played the entire first half last Friday in Los Angeles against the Rams.
He did so without Cooks, Pro Bowl Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil and Center Justin Britt, among others. Defensively, veteran linemen like Maliek Collins, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison haven't suited up yet, either.
That will change on Thursday night.
"We're going to play the guys a lot more this week," Head Coach Lovie Smith said. "This is the game we've kind of been shooting for to play the guys. I'm not going to say exactly how long right now, but a lot more."
3) Green means go
Offensive Lineman Kenyon Green will play. The 15th overall pick in this year's NFL Draft missed the first two preseason games with a concussion and has now practice "full speed" for a week. Smith said Green won't start, but is "right on schedule" and the Texans will "get him into the mix".
Offensive lineman Tytus Howard, like Green, was a first-round pick. The young veteran was asked what advice he'd give the rookie, and he kept it simple.
"I would say be calm," Howard said. "We've been playing this game for a long time. The level gets harder and harder as you increase it. Kenyon is a good player. There's a reason he was taken 15th overall. He needs to go out there and play his game, be calm, just let the older guys talk to him, get him going. I think he'll do a good job."
4) Running rotation
After Running Back Dameon Pierce exploded for 49 yards on just five carries against the Saints, Smith and the Texans kept the rookie on the sidelines in Los Angeles. They'd seen enough, and wanted to get a better evaluation of the rest of the players at the position.
Houston's running backs gained 91 yards on 25 carries versus the Rams. Smith described what he wants from that group of ball-carriers fighting for jobs.
"Play better," Smith said. "It is that simply, really. It's about production when you get opportunities, flash. Show us your best. At the end of training camp, the best of everyone is what we should've seen. If not, one last time to show us."
Rex Burkhead, Marlon Mack, Dare Ogunbowale and Royce Freeman all ran the ball last Friday. Ogunbowale was the only back from that quartet to gain better than four yards per carry.
5) Front 7 pressure
The Texans defense has generated 11 sacks in the two preseason games. That pressure on opposing quarterbacks has come from all over the defensive front, and that high level of production in August should make the final roster cuts at the line spots all the tougher for General Manager Nick Caserio, Smith and the Texans.
Cornerback Steven Nelson has liked what he's seen from that group, and acknowledged how they'll help make his job easier if they continue that way.
"Those guys are workaholics," Nelson said. "They're all dogs. They all want to get better. They all want to light up that stat sheet, man. So, hey, go ahead. It's fine by me."
Ogbo Okoronkwo and Ross Blacklock won't be able to play because of slight injuries, but we'll likely see Hughes and Addison get their first bits of work with Houston.