The Texans (0-3) and the Vikings (0-3) square off in Houston this Sunday. Each team is winless, each team was in the postseason in 2019, and the Texans have never beaten Minnesota in the four previous meetings. Here are five things to watch when the two squads kick off at noon CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) TGIO? - October is here. After a forgettable September, the Texans are looking to bounce back in the new month and start stringing together some wins. That can't happen without first notching a victory on Sunday against Minnesota. In his young career, though, quarterback Deshaun Watson has shined in the 10th month of the year.
In both 2017 and 2019, Watson was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month. Since his rookie campaign of 2017, Watson's tossed 34 touchdowns in October, which is tops in the NFL in that span.
The Texans have been the highest scoring team in the League in October since 2017 , averaging 33.1 points per game. They're also second in the NFL with 408.8 yards per game since 2017. Most importantly, they've won nine of their 12 October games since 2017, which is second only to Patriots in that time. In each of the last three years, in the first game of October, Watson and the Texans were undefeated and averaged 43 points per contest.
Watson completed 77.5 percent of his passes in those three games, for 1,084 yards, with 10 touchdown passes and just a pair of interceptions.
"I heard his college coach (Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney) describe him as Michael Jordan, and you see a lot of those qualities," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. "The way that he can run and how strong he is, how strong of an arm he has, the things that they can do with him. He's really a special, special player."
At 0-3 on the season, though, Watson described what he and the offense need to do to help the team get in the win column.
"Just create a rhythm and get in a balance and really just get on the same page as the offensive coordinator and quarterback, communicating with the guys and just doing things that we're comfortable doing," Watson said. "That's pretty much it."
2) Success with the run - The Texans don't necessarily need to 'establish the run'. They just need to be successful when they run it, or make the defense think it's a danger to defend.
David Johnson's first three carries against the Steelers went for a combined 12 yards. His final 10 amassed 11 yards. He was routinely given the ball with a Steeler, or sometimes two, already in the backfield ready to greet him. Giving Johnson a little more time and space is of paramount importance for the Texans.
"We need to do a better job in terms of the schematics of it and how we're scheming things up and really put our guys in a better spot there to be more successful in the blocking schemes that we're asking them to do," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said.
Head coach Bill O'Brien was quick to point out the run blocking, as opposed to Johnson, was what needed to get better moving forward.
"There's nothing that David can do differently," O'Brien said. "We have to, as a coaching staff, we have to do a much better job of scheming it up and just doing a better job."
With Duke Johnson out last week, C.J. Prosise was the only other running back to get a carry, and he picked up one yard on his lone rushing attempt. But Duke Johnson was a full participant in Thursday's practice, and head coach Bill O'Brien said Duke Johnson is "trending in the right " direction as far as being able to suit up on Sunday.
Getting both Johnsons back not only gives the run game more able bodies, but it gives the offense the ability to put both on the field at the same time and present new challenges for an opposing defense.
3) Familiar faces - For the first time, all three men who've coached the Houston Texans will coach in the same game. O'Brien's been the head coach since 2014, after taking over for Gary Kubiak, who held the post from 2006 through 2013. He succeeded Dom Capers, who was the franchise's first man in charge, from 2002 to 2005. Kubiak and Capers are with the Vikings now. The former is the offensive coordinator, while the latter is a senior defensive assistant. While O'Brien is gunning for a win, first and foremost, he also hopes the trio can get together for a pregame photo.
"Once you get up to this level, you start to know people and jobs sometimes overlap and I think in that case it's a good thing because those are two guys that I look up to and they're really great guys," O'Brien said.
When he was a receivers coach in New England, Capers spent some time as the Patriots secondary coach. During that span, O'Brien said he learned a lot from Capers.
O'Brien was also very complimentary of Kubiak, who has a lethal running back in Dalvin Cook.
"Now he's in the scheme with the past couple of years with Coach Kubiak and the zone running scheme," O'Brien said. "It's a very, very difficult challenge. We're going to have to do a good job of fundamental football. Setting the edge, playing good gap control and then tackling. If he gets into the secondary or gets around the edge, he's got great speed so you're going to have an issue. We have to do a great job."
In three games this year, Cook has rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns. He's averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
4) Takeaway time - The Texans are at minus-4 on the season in turnover differential. They've come up with zero takeaways to their four turnovers. The Vikings, meanwhile, are even worse in 2020: they're at minus-5.
Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins has tossed six interceptions, and Cook fumbled the ball away once.
Houston's been on the losing end of the turnover battle in seven of the last nine regular season games. Righting that proverbial ship is a big deal.
"Extremely frustrating," safety Justin Reid said. "We usually pride ourselves on two things; that's stopping the run and creating turnovers, and we haven't been very talented in either of those up to this point in the season. So we need to get back to playing Houston Texans football, which is not only stopping the run but dominating the run, creating those turnovers."
5) Fans(-tastic) return - For the first time since the Wild Card win over Buffalo on January 4, the Texans will play at NRG Stadium in front of fans. Houston is expecting around 13,000 in attendance, and while it won't be as full or as rowdy as what the Texans are accustomed to, they'll take it. Two weeks ago the Texans played in a sterile environment at home, and the coaches and players weren't big fans of it. Getting fans back in the building is a big plus. Receiver Randall Cobb will play his first game as a Texan in front of fans, but he was here as a Green Bay Packer in 2012, and his experience then left a lasting impression upon him.
"I'm excited about it," Cobb said. "I played here as a visitor back in 2012, and it was rocking. This place was wild. Everybody was rocking."
Even though it won't be the full-throated 70,000-plus fans that typically pack NRG Stadium, Cobb said fans who will be inside will make a drastic difference compared to the experience of two weeks ago.
"I expect even with a minimal crowd, that it'll still be loud," Cobb said. "I think there were 17,000 in Kansas City (in Week 1) and they got it pretty rocking. So I expect our fans will come out and show up and will have something to cheer about."