5 things to know about Texans: J.J. Watt, Houston still part of AFC playoff picture

December 07, 2015 - 4:55 pm
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[caption id="attachment_102393" align="alignright" width="350"]J.J. Watt and Bill O'Brien will lead the Texans into Sunday's contest against the Patriots. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) J.J. Watt and Bill O'Brien will lead the Texans into Sunday's contest against the Patriots. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)[/caption] Five things you have to know about the Texans (6-6), who will host the Patriots (10-2) Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. 1. After a really rough start, they've turned things around. They're not an overwhelming bunch by any means, but considering the fact that the Texans on the periphery of the postseason picture, it's an impressive feat, given where they were a month into the season. Houston started 1-4, and was beset by injury and ineffective quarterback play. But thanks to a substandard AFC South, some occasionally steady play on the part of quarterback Brian Hoyer and the work of an impressive pass defense, the Texans have nosed their way into the playoff picture with five wins in their last seven games. That stretch includes a 10-6 win over the Bengals on Nov. 16, the first loss of the year for Cincinnati. It's as good a time as any to hail the work of former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who was able to keep a leaky ship together during a rough stretch and still guide them to a .500 record after 12 games. They may not make the playoffs, but given the instability under center, if they are able to finish the season .500, it'll represent a nice stretch for O'Brien and the rest of his staff. 2. J.J. Watt has to be accounted for on every play. Not really breaking news here, but after a relatively slow start, Watt has come on like gangbusters as the Houston defense has really started to round into form. The Wisconsin product leads the NFL in sacks with 13.5, and plays a sizable role in the fact that the Texans come into Sunday's game as one of the best teams in the league when it comes to defending the pass. Houston is the third-best team in the league when it comes to slowing air attacks, having yielded just 218.3 passing yards per game. (Weirdly, only one quarterback -- Jacksonville's Blake Bortles -- has accounted for more than 300 passing yards in a game against the Texans.) Much of that is because of Watt's ability to get after the quarterback and force some bad throws. With the issues along the interior of New England's offensive line, slowing Watt will be priority one for the Patriots. Expect New England to try and utilize multiple blockers in trying to contain the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Watt, who certainly has the capability of ruining a game for Tom Brady and the Patriots. 3. They have been occasionally vulnerable when it comes to run defense. We hate to sound like a broken record here, but the Texans are another team that appears to be vulnerable to the New England ground game, as Houston entered Monday's game 21st in the NFL in run defense, having yielded an average of 114.1 rushing yards per contest. Their run defense numbers have been feast or famine all year, with very little in between -- the Texans have allowed 135 or more rushing yards four times on the season (including 187 yards on the ground in a loss to the Bills last week). On the other hand, there have also been four games where they have held opponents to under 75 rushing yards. While no one is sure what to expect out of the New England ground game from week-to-week -- that includes play-calling, personnel and execution -- from this viewpoint, if the Patriots are able to get up on the Texans in the early-going, they will have the chance to run the ball. Whether or not they'll be able to get those yards is another matter altogether. 4. They are middle-of-the-road when it comes to throwing the ball, but below average when it comes to running the game. Former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer has taken over the starters' job, and is a big reason the Texans are 11th in the league when it comes to throwing the football, with an average of 261 passing yards per game. Hoyer (61 percent completion rate, 2,202 passing yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs, passer rating of 94.4) has posted respectable numbers this season. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is their No. 1 target in the passing game with 1,169 receiving yards and a whopping 13.6 yards per catch, while Cecil Shorts (40 catches, 71 targets, 475 yards, 2 TDs) has also managed to become a nice contributor in the passing game as well -- he had a season-high 91 yards last week in a loss to the Bills. However, they have had issues running the ball consistently since Arian Foster went down for the season. Through 12 games, they've averaged 100.1 rushing yards per game as a team, 19th in the league. (That includes 3.5 yards per carry, 29th in the NFL, and five rushing touchdowns, tied for 25th.) The primary ballcarrier for Houston is the 6-foot-2, 223-pound Alfred Blue (127 carries, 444 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 3.5 yards per carry), while Chris Polk (70 carries, 252 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3.6 YPC) also provides depth. The bottom line? You take them out of the run game and force them to throw the ball to beat you in the second half, it's a major edge for the New England defense. 5. They don't have a great special teams group. The Patriots are coming off back-to-back weeks against special teams units that have taken advantage of a series of rare mistakes from New England. This week, it would be hard to imagine the Houston special teamers make it three-for-three. The Texans are average at best when it comes to special teams -- kicker Nick Novak is 8-for-9 on field goal attempts and 21-for-23 on extra points, and he's 32nd in the league with just 14 touchbacks. Punter Shane Lechler is tied for the league lead in punt attempts (74), but is 47 yards average is ninth in the NFL, while his 38.6 net is 25th. The 9.7 average yards per punt return by opponents is 23rd. Returner Keith Mumphery handles punts and kick returns, and averages 7.7 yards per punt return and 24.1 yards per kick return. He has no return touchdowns this season, and the Texans have not blocked a punt this season. DraftKings DraftKings has your shot to play for FREE in the $1 Million Fantasy Football Contest THIS SUNDAY! First place takes home $100,000! FOR FREE ENTRY, CLICK HERE.