Tomorrow afternoon the Houston Texans will look to secure their first win of the 2018 season in their home-opener against the New York Giants—who are also looking for their first win after two lackluster performances to start the season. Last week, the Texans fell 20-17 against the Blaine Gabbert-led Titans. After an embarrassing showing, the Texans have a chance to rebound in their own building against a team with just as many question marks—if not more—than themselves. Let’s breakdown the game in greater detail, and take a look at key matchups and my predictions.
After a very poor week one performance, Deshaun Watson took a step forward against the Titans, throwing for 310 yards while tossing 2 touchdowns to 1 interception. Watson’s fatal mistake was draining 17 seconds off the clock on the final play of the game—crushing any chances the Texans had at taking the lead late. I’ll give Watson a pass, simply because it was his 8th career game. Watson is still very much a rookie, and although many have grand expectations for the 23-year-old, he is going to experience growing pains and lapses in judgement. The important thing is that he builds on every performance and improves week-to-week.
The running game has been fantastic through two weeks, leading the NFL with 157.5 yards per game despite the offensive line struggling at times. I expect the Texans to continue to run the ball against the Giants, however, it would benefit the offense to pass more on early downs—as several of the Texans’ drives last week stalled after run-run-pass play calls. Damon Harrison is one of the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the NFL and will look to shut down the Texans rushing attack. Nick Martin will have his hands full.
The pass protection has been suspect at best. Interior lineman Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton have been very solid, but young tackles Martinas Rankin and Julien Davenport have played poorly. Davenport in particular—he constantly gets flagged for holding and had two false start penalties last week. He needs to improve if the Texans offense wants to get going. Deshaun Watson can help the line by being decisive and getting rid of the football quickly. Bill O’Brien should incorporate more short, timing routes into the game plan in order to get Watson into a rhythm early on. Against the Giants, the Texans are lucky that Olivier Vernon isn’t able to play due to injury. They have given up 7 sacks through 2 weeks against teams with average pass rushers. They need to keep Watson on his feet.
The addition of Will Fuller to this offense has been nothing short of a revelation. Without Will Fuller in the offense, Deshaun Watson has averaged 200.7 yards-per-game with 1.0 touchdowns and 6.62 yards-per-attempt. With Fuller, Watson has averaged 296.2 yards-per-game, with an astounding 3.6 touchdowns and 9.52 yards-per-attempt. His ability to draw safeties also opens up one side of the field for DeAndre Hopkins. Both Fuller and Hopkins surpassed 100 yards last week. They look like a great duo in the making.
I would like to see the Texans use their running backs and tight ends more in the passing game. The two Texans rookie tight ends—Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas—have played well in limited snaps and create mismatch problems for defenses. At 6’6’’, Jordan Thomas is a hard man to cover, especially considering his 4.6 speed.
The defense has been solid under Romeo Crennel. Jadeveon Clowney should return this week, and has a favorable matchup against the Giants offensive line. Rookie guard Will Hernandez has shown great potential, and Nick Solder is an upgrade at left tackle, however, right tackle Ereck Flowers faces an uphill battle against Watt and Clowney.
Saquon Barkley will be an area of focus for the Texans defense. He caught 14 passes last week and has rushed for 134 yards through two weeks. More importantly, the Texans will have to slow down Odell Beckham Jr. this week. He hasn’t scored a touchdown this season, but will look to take advantage of a Texans secondary that lacks depth. I expect the Texans to keep a safety on him at all times. Evan Engram will likely see some single coverage against the Texans, which could be an issue for the Texans’ young linebackers. Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham have struggled in coverage.
The Texans’ pass rush has been nonexistent. J.J. Watt hasn’t registered a sack in over two years, Clowney has been injured, and Whitney Mercilus looks like a shell of himself. Rookie 6th round pick Duke Ejiofor has looked like the Texans’ best pass rusher despite only playing 15 snaps. He will get more playing time going forward. Romeo Crennel will need to be more creative with his blitzes this week.
Prediction: Texans 23 Giants 21
This game will come down to who can make the big play and which team protects their quarterback. Both teams are desperate to salvage their seasons after stacking losses, so it’s hard to predict the outcome of this game. Overall I would say the Texans have a more talented roster, so I’m predicting they get their first win of the season at home against the Giants.