The vibes are very positive, and the times are good right now in the sports landscape here in Houston. The Houston Astros made sure of that by going up to Minneapolis and reminding the Minnesota Twins who's boss, taking home the ALDS by a 3-1 count. The ALCS starts on Sunday, with the Rangers coming to town (if you're wondering what that smell is), but before that we have the Texans defending our city from a New Orleans invasion, as the Saints come to town.
These two teams met in the preseason, with the Texans winning that one in New Orleans by a score of 17-13, in a game where E.J. Perry out dueled Jake Haener at the quarterback position. In other words, that game means nothing, but if this matchup feels oddly familiar, that's probably why.
This matchup won't be decided by Perry, Haener, or likely any other player still playing in the second half of that late August exhibition. This one will be determined by Derek Carr, C.J. Stroud, and which defense brings their lunch pail better than the other one. Like literally every other team the Texans have played in 2023, the Saints are 3-2. The Texans are 2-3.
Here are four things to watch for on Sunday:
4. Is this another "invasion game"?
The Texans home opener against the Colts was largely Texans fans, with a fairly high enthusiasm level. In Week 4, the invasion from Steelers fans, which was beyond noticeable, was very predictable. And loud! The Saints are the closest team geographically on the 2023 schedule, and we know Louisiana people love three things — booze, Cajun food, and their Saints. This weekend, Houston is the only place you can get all three of those things. So, if you're going to the game, expect a lot of funky accents and last names that end in "-eaux." The Texans are a better team now than they were last year, but not good enough to keep Saints fans out yet.
3. Are the Texans becoming a good run defense?
It certainly wasn't looking that way early in the season, when the Ravens, Colts, and even the Jags in a loss, were slicing up the Texans' front seven. However, the run defense was good enough against the Steelers, and then against perhaps the most talented back they'll face all season, Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson, the Texans held the Falcons under 100 yards rushing. (Of course, Desmond Ridder threw for 329 yards, but who's counting?) The Texans have allowed just 3.7 yards per carry, good for ninth in the NFL. If they can squeeze the Saints running game, and stick Derek Carr back there to throw the ball in obvious passing situations, then they should be able to get Carr on the ground, especially if he is anything like his older brother, David.
2. Running game, where for art thou?
Much has been made of the Texans' putrid running game, as it should be. It's the worst in all of football. For the first time, though, the fingers are beginning to point at popular second year running back Dameon Pierce as a part of the problem. The questions as to Pierce's fit in this offense are not going away. Does his battering ram still, in which he seems to crave contact, fit with Bobby Slowik's zone running scheme. Pierce has yet to crack 3.6 yards per carry in any single game this season.
1. Steady Stroud
C.J. Stroud continues to do things very few rookies have ever done in the history of the league, most notably seems to be his streak of having not thrown an interception through his first 186 career pass attempts. This will be his stiffest test yet, which is saying something, considering he's played the Ravens, Steelers, and Falcons these first five weeks. The Saints are murder for opposing quarterbacks, allowing a league low 66.1 passer rating, and just 5.6 yards per attempt. Stroud will be without one of his favorite targets, rookie Tank Dell, as well. That takes away a massive downfield threat.
SPREAD: Saints -1.5
PREDICTION: Saints, 24, Texans 20
SEASON RECORD: 2-3 SU, 3-2 ATS
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