The dark clouds of the Houston Texans' 0-3 start are pretty much gone now. Thanks to the combination of some grit, some clutch kicking, and some really questionable coaching decisions by the opposition, two overtime wins have the Texans back to 2-3, and the only thing standing in between them and evening their record at 3-3 is a 60-minute stint of football against the Buffalo Bills.
On paper, these teams are both 2-3, which makes them mathematical equals. However, even a shallow dive into some of the statistics reveals something that spherical Texan fans and some media will have a hard time admitting — the Texans actually do a LOT of things well. Unfortunately, the thing they do worst is punch the ball into the end zone when they're on the doorstep. More on that in a moment, but here are some Pro Football Focus rankings as an appetizer for the four things I'll be watching for....
Team Grades and ranks for the #Texans through Week 5:— PFF HOU Texans (@PFF_Texans) October 10, 2018
Offense - 75.4 (8th)
Passing - 82.8 (7th)
Receiving - 78..7 (5th)
Run Defense - 83.6 (4th)
Special Teams - 68.2 (9th)
In other words, the Texans are among the ten best teams in the league at some pretty damn important things. They're also a double digit favorite over this visiting team with the same record. At this time of the season, not all teams with the same record are created equal. Let's get to this Bills game.
4. LeSean McCoy
Like last week, the goal of the Texans' defense will be to cut off the head of the other team's offensive snake, and like last week, it's the opposing team's tailback. McCoy is not quite at the level of Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, but the Bills ask him to do similar things. He is a three down back, who can catch, block, and run (and who may or may not have serious off the field issues, but that's none of my business). The main difference here is that Elliott had better everything around — better QB, better skill guys, much better offensive line. The Texans have been really good against the run this season, and that should continue on Sunday afternoon.
3. Watt and Clowney, Episode 3
It wasn't quite the two man wrecking crew that we saw against Indy two weeks ago, but for the second straight week, Watt and Clowney both made a small handful of impactful plays. They both really seem to be finding their stride in complementing each other on the pass rush, and both are among the 15 best runs defenders in the game, as well, according to Pro Football Focus. The only offensive line that has surrendered more sacks than the Texans' is the Bills' offensive line. Against a rookie quarterback, this should be a fun game for Watt and Clowney.
2. Red zone woes
We've spent plenty of time laughing and crying over the Texans' red zone issues, and they're well documented. This is a team that moves the ball in between the twenty yard lines as well as any in football. Unfortunately, when they're on the doorstep of scoring, they turn into mush. To put it into perspective, this is some great info from Brett Kollman of Battle Red Blog:
The Texans are leading the Chiefs in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, and red zone trips per game....but they are scoring 12 fewer points per game and have literally the 31st ranked red zone offense.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 9, 2018
One team is 5-0, the other is 2-3. The difference is the red zone.
As the lacrosse coach in American Pie said, YOU DON'T SCORE UNTIL YOU SCORE....
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1. Deshaun Watson's health
So this was a strange week for injury reporting. As we outlined here on Tuesday, the gambling community started to go nuts on this game, moving the line down to Texans -1 in some places, and with most taking it off the board completely, with rumors of a Watson injury swirling. As it turns out, he is dealing with a chest injury of some sort, but he will play on Sunday. Watson is taking way too many hits to survive this season, so it will be incumbent on both Bill O'Brien (play calling) and Watson himself (decision making) to keep him out of harm's way, as best they can. Watson is on pace for over 5,000 yards passing this season, but it won't matter if he cannot make it to the bye week with two working lungs.
SPREAD: Texans -10
PREDICTION: Texans 20, Bills 12
RECORD: 2-3 SU, 1-4 ATS
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.