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Will Fuller showed signs of becoming an elite receiver last week against the Titans.
Will Fuller showed signs of becoming an elite receiver last week against the Titans.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

NFL, Week 3: Giants-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

There was no shortage of expectations for the Houston Texans coming into the 2018 NFL season; expectations for the coaches and for the players, and I think it's safe to say that none of them, and very few in the city of Houston, expected the Texans to be 0-2 after two weeks, even with both games coming on the road.

So now the Texans have spent six days as part of those rehashed "here's what the playoff odds are for 0-2 teams" discussions for debate TV shows and radio shows like mine (2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. weekdays on SportsRadio 610, in case you're wondering). Sunday, they face a team that has also been part of the 0-2 rhetoric, the (possibly this year, and definitely last year) hapless New York Giants.

So this Sunday, we basically have the "Teams Trying To Avoid Being Part of the 0-3 Playoff Percentage Discussion" Bowl at NRG Stadium, and while it's the clunkiest name for a bowl ever, it is a game the Houston Texans absolutely, unequivocally MUST win, or one of two things will happen — NRG will figuratively explode like a tinderbox, OR, even worse, apathy will engulf Texan Nation.

So here we go —  a few things to watch for this Sunday with the Giants coming to town:

4. The pass rush brokenrecord
Through two games, the Texans have three sacks as a team, and none of them have been attained by a person named Watt, Mercilus, or Clowney. D.J. Reader has two, and rookie Duke Ejiofor has one, in case you're wondering. In fact, for Watt, it's been 734 days and counting since he sacked a quarterback in an NFL game. Some of the flaccid sack numbers can be attributed to scheme from the opposition — Tennessee only had Blaine Gabbert drop back 20 times last game, and most of his throws were out of his hands in about a second and change. Clowney should play Sunday, so if they don't rack up a four or five sack game at a minimum against a bad Giants offensive line and a statue at QB in Eli Manning, you will be cleared to panic, Houston. Or panic more than you already are panicking, I should say.

3. Containing Beckham
Through two games, the best threat in the receiving game the Texans have faced is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Admittedly, Gronk is more of an inside linebacker/safety kind of assignment, so for the first time this season, the Texans cornerbacks are facing elite outside talent in Odell Beckham, Jr. Sterling Shepard is no slouch as a number two guy, either. So the focus will be on Johnathan Joseph, who at 34 years old and with Kevin Johnson on injured reserve, is being asked to turn back the clock and do number one corner kind of things. Kareem Jackson seems likely to get the call on the other side at cornerback, and the good news is he's been one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball for the Texans this season. At some point, Aaron Colvin (55 percent of snaps in Week 1, 41 percent of snaps in Week 2) has to figure in more prominently.

2. Oh, also this Saquon fellow
The Giants have not skimped in terms of giving Eli Manning explosive offensive weapons. Along with extending Beckham and making him the highest paid receiver in football, they used the number two overall pick in the draft on Penn State tour de force Saquon Barkley. Thus far, aside from a 60-plus yard touchdown in Week 1, it's been slow going out of the gate for Barkley, and it won't get any easier this Sunday against a Texans defense that is third in DVOA against the run this season. If the Texans can keep Beckham and Barkley from big chunk plays, this SHOULD be a fairly routine victory on Sunday... SHOULD... stressing the word SHOULD.

1. Seeking 2017 Deshaun Watson
Through two games, statistically, Deshaun Watson is kind of just average. He is 17th in DVOA among quarterbacks, 22nd in passer rating, and 16th in yards per attempt. This, unfortunately, is not going to get it done if the Texans are going to contend for a playoff spot, let alone a chance at winning the AFC. Probably the more unsettling thing is that, stats aside, Watson has had moments that look rookie-like, the most glaring being his two ill-advised interception throws and the final play of the game against Tennessee when he ran 17 seconds of game clock down to zero. Watson was scintillating in his last five starts last season, with any mistakes he made winding up tried under a wave of touchdowns and "HOLY S#%T" plays. It feels like a 35 point outburst is almost necessary Sunday in restoring some of the faith that Watson may have lost with disgruntled Texan fans. It's only his ninth start, so losing any sort of faith seems unfair, but heavy is the head that wears the crown.

SPREAD: Texans -7
PREDICTION: Texans 29, Giants 17
RECORD: 1-1 season, 1-1 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.

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