The Texans (2-3) are home for a Week 6 matchup with the Saints (3-2). The two clubs faced each other in the preseason finale at New Orleans in late August, and it's the first regular season meeting between them at NRG Stadium since 2015. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon on Sunday.
1) Stroud staying successful – Five games into his career, C.J. Stroud has yet to throw an interception. The rookie's tossed seven touchdowns and completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,461 yards.
Further, he hasn't been sacked in the last three games.
While those are some very positive and encouraging stats, Stroud this week was focused on getting the Texans in the end zone more. Last Sunday at Atlanta they settled for a quartet of Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals, and scored just one touchdown in three red zone trips. The Falcons won, 21-19, with a field goal as time expired.
"The reason we didn't win was because we didn't score on offense enough, and we need touchdowns in this league, not field goals," Stroud said.
Head Coach DeMeco Ryans explained that Stroud saw things last Sunday that were much different than what he saw from opposing defenses the first few weeks of the season.
"He's growing every day, every chance he gets," Ryans said. "You see how teams try to attack you – it started off with a lot of blitz coverage. Last week, it wasn't so much the blitz, it was the drop-eight coverage, changing the picture post-snap. That's somewhere that he has to learn, grow from and it shows that teams respect him when you do that in coverage."
Saints Head Coach Dennis Allen doesn't just think Stroud's playing well for a rookie. He's playing "at a high level" for an NFL quarterback, in general.
"He's done a really good job of going through his progressions," Allen said. "He knows where to go with the football. He gets the ball out generally in rhythm and timing. He does have the ability to improvise and make some plays on the move. I just think he's operating their offense at a really high level."
2) Run game going – The Texans offense is still seeking improvement on the ground. The only game in which Houston's cracked the century mark this season was the win over the Steelers. The Texans gained 139 yards that day. In the other four contests, they've averaged less than half that, with 68.5 yards per game. They don't, however, think they're far off from getting the ground attack going again soon.
Offensive lineman Tytus Howard, who returned from the injured reserve last week and started at left guard in Atlanta, thinks the Texans can run more effectively if they just take care of the little things.
"Whenever we go out there and do everything we're supposed to do, the run gaps are wide open," Howard said. "But collectively, everybody's got to be on their P's and Q's. When we were playing Atlanta we had ten guys maybe in the right spot and then one guy not. That just kills the play."
Only seven teams in the NFL have allowed fewer rushing yards this season than the Saints.
3) Receivers adjust – Tank Dell is listed as questionable for Sunday because of a concussion. But veteran Noah Brown returned to practice this week and might be able to play on Sunday, and rookie Xavier Hutchinson might have a beefier role in the offense than he did in the season's first four games.
Robert Woods, Nico Collins and Dell have been the mainstays at receiver early in 2023. Woods and Collins likely get the lion's share of targets if Dell's absent, and the chances for John Metchie, III and Hutchinson should rise, according to offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.
"When Tank is not out there, people have got to step up," Slowik said. "It's the 'next man up' mentality, so that will obviously increase the amount of reps that Metchie gets, the amount of reps that 'Hutch' gets, and we want to make sure that we have a pretty good rotation there."
Metchie's caught six balls for 72 yards this year, and Hutchinson's been on the field for a combined 33 offensive snaps. Whether or not Hutchinson's reps go up on Sunday, he's still preparing the same way.
"It's been the same week, to be honest with you," Hutchinson said. "Whether someone's down or they're all healthy, I still prepare as if I'm a starter on the team. That's the only way that you can prepare, especially in the NFL."
4) Take it away – The Saints defense is tied for the third in the NFL with seven interceptions. As a team, New Orleans is tied for 11th in the league in turnover differential at plus-3. That means they've taken the ball away from opponents three more times than they've committed a turnover.
The Texans, though, have been better. They're currently plus-5, which has them in a tie for fifth in turnover differential.
Getting takeaways on defense, and ball security for the offense are key points of emphasis for Ryans. While he's pleased with the turnover differential, he said Houston must take another step.
"Now, we just have to make sure we're turning those turnovers into points and getting points off of those takeaways," Ryans said. "I'm very, very pleased with how we've been protecting the ball offensively and attacking the ball on defense."
5) Keep Kamara in check – The Texans were able to limit Atlanta's dynamic running back Bijan Robinson to just 46 yards on 14 carries last Sunday.
This Sunday, the defense faces another challenge in the form of New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara.
He's only played in two games this season, but he's averaging 4.0 yards per carry, and he's already caught a combined 16 passes in those two games.
The Pro Bowler, who's scored 73 touchdowns in 90 career games, is a mighty threat running and catching the ball.
Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke explained how Kamara is complemented really well by receivers like Michael Thomas and Chris Olave.
"Kamara has worked back into things the last couple of weeks," Burke said. "He had like 14, 15 targets his first game back. Obviously, you start giving too much space to the pass game where you're worried about Thomas and Olave and those guys. Now all of the sudden, there's a lot of space for Kamara and the underneath zone. Those guys complement each other really well."