The Texans (6-5) host the Broncos (6-5) in a Week 13 matchup on Sunday in Houston. Denver's won five games in a row, while Houston dropped last Sunday's contest to the visiting Jaguars, snapping a 3-game win streak. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon inside NRG Stadium.
1) Stay hot, Stroud – C.J. Stroud's prolific rookie campaign continues to impress. Earlier this week, the Texans quarterback was named November's AFC Offensive Player of the Month as well as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month.
What will he do next?
Stroud's been exceptional at home in 2023. He's averaging 333.2 passing yards per game in NRG Stadium, and 2.5 touchdown tosses per contest. Houston's won four of their six home games.
Over the last four games, though, Stroud's been electric. He has 1,466 passing yards, and that's the most by any rookie in a 4-game span since 1970. It's also the most passing yards in Texans history in a 4-game stretch.
Broncos Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph described the rookie's play as "amazing to watch", and heaped praise upon Stroud.
"This guy is playing like a veteran," Joseph said. "His poise, obviously, is on point. The pressure doesn't bother him. Four-man rush, three-man rush—he's playing at a high level. His accuracy is very special."
Stroud, meanwhile, isn't satisfied.
"For me, my mindset ever since I've been a kid has been, 'What's next?'," Stroud said. "Like, 'How can I keep improving? How can I keep going?'"
2) Careful with explosives – One of the many reasons Stroud has flourished so far has been his ability to go deep. Over the last month, he completed 27 passes of 20 yards or more. The next best AFC quarterback had 14 such completions. Dallas' Dak Prescott was closest to Stroud with 24 completions of 20 yards or longer. But he did so in five games this month, compared to just four for Stroud.
Right guard Shaq Mason, who played with Tom Brady five seasons in New England and last year with the Bucs, sees something special in Stroud as well.
"It's amazing," Mason said. "He's making some plays back there. He's a great player. We see the day in and day out of how hard he works, how he studies, how he tries to pick apart things."
3) Run to Daylight – Last Sunday, Texans running backs Devin Singletary and Dameon Pierce combined to gain 32 yards on 11 carries. In the two games prior, Singletary cracked the 100-yard mark both weeks. Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik would like to see more of that than what he saw versus the Jaguars.
"We took a little bit of a step back last week," Slowik said. "We weren't moving and displacing people like we wanted. We weren't necessarily hitting the holes like we wanted on some of the stuff. I mean, we have very much reattached to ourselves this week to try and make sure we play Texan football again."
The Broncos defense has allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL this season, and is last in the league in allowing 5.4 yards per carry.
4) No Cooking Allowed – Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is playing at a high level again. He's thrown 20 touchdown passes and just four picks. His passer rating is 103.4, and along with Stroud, only four other quarterbacks in the NFL are above the 100 mark.
He's also been outstanding in the fourth quarter this season. He's thrown an NFL-best eight touchdown passes in the final period, and he hasn't been picked off in the fourth.
"He throws one of the best deep balls in the league," Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans said. "We have to be prepared there when they do take their shots. But also, if it's not there, he's being smart with the football. He's getting the ball to his checkdown, getting to his second or third read and allowing them to continue drives."
5) TO Differential – The Texans, again, face a team that's outstanding at turnover differential. (No, I'm not copying and pasting this paragraph from last week's '5 Things to Watch'. Or the week before. Or the week before that.)
The Broncos are tied for fourth in the NFL at plus-8, meaning they've take the ball away from opponents eight more times than they've turned it over.
But Denver's defense leads the league with 22 takeaways. Slowik and company are aware of that.
"You're definitely more aware of where you want to do that and when you want to do that and how you want to do that," Slowik said. "You also hit the small, little, finer details which we kind of hit all year, but of how you protect the ball? Where do we miss? What are we doing when we have the ball in traffic? All of that together, I think really is a big emphasis for us this week."