The Houston Texans’ first round bye possibilities appeared bleak two weeks ago following a 24-21 loss to the Colts. That changed with the Miracle in Miami as the Dolphins upended the Patriots. Thanks to a come-from-behind performance against the Jets along with the Steelers delivering New England's second straight defeat, the Texans will travel to Philadelphia in the driver’s seat of the AFC's number two seed. While Houston is primed to be a top two seed, the Eagles still have faint playoff hopes, staying alive by beating the Rams 30-23.
The Texans enter the contest with a struggling run game. In their previous two games, Houston posted 89 yards against the Colts, and just 47 yards against the Jets. In both games, quarterback Deshaun Watson was the Texans’ leading rusher. Though it’s great to see Watson making plays with his legs, keeping a starting quarterback healthy is a huge issue.
In these final two games, the Texans need to not only get Lamar Miller healthy following his ankle injury, but also get both Miller and Blue back to on track to take the pressure off Watson. Since the Texans bye, there has been much speculation about the return of running back D'Onta Foreman. Foreman, recovering from an Achilles injury, has yet to play this year, and could make his debut at Philadelphia Sunday. If Foreman is unable to go Sunday, the Texans would be best suited to sit him for the remainder of the year, including the playoffs, in order to have Foreman ready to go for training camp.
Keys to the Game
The Texans need one more win to secure the AFC South, two for a first round bye. The defending champion Eagles, on the other hand, do not necessarily have to win out in order to get back to the playoffs, but it would help their cause. What do the Texans have to do to snag a win?
- Run the ball. The Texans have struggled to run the ball in the last two games. They’ll face an Eagles defense which is 11th against the run, allowing 105 yards a game, but 19th in the league allowing 12 rushing touchdowns on the season. Getting Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue going again will be a huge step towards generating balance, as well as alleviating the pressure on Watson.
- Continue to play mistake-free. The Texans have gone four consecutive games without committing a turnover. On the road against the defending champions, in a hostile environment, the Texans are going to have to add a fifth consecutive turnover-free game if they want to come home with a W.
- Get everyone involved and score touchdowns. I love Watson's ability to extend plays, and his play-making instinct is incredible. However, always trying to make plays can be Watson's downfall, because he has a tendency of holding the ball too long, taking unnecessary hits and sacks. Deshaun also loves going to Hopkins, which is great, but if Watson can utilize his tight ends and running backs more in the passing game, the offense should see a more consistent flow. As a unit, the offense is just weird: against the Colts, the Texans scored three touchdowns and no field goals, but lost; against the Jets, the Texans scored two touchdowns and kicked five field goals, but won. The offense has to find its balance and start generating some consistency.
- Get pressure and tackle. The Texans’ front seven has been pretty quiet in the past three games, registering just nine sacks on 13 quarterback hits in the previous three games. Some of the lack of heat is attributed to the opposing quarterback getting rid of the ball quickly. Assuming the Eagles put that kind of plan in place for Foles who will start in the place of the injured Carson Wentz, Watt and company are unable to generate pressure on Foles; the Texans must hustle and tackle in open space, to prevent a short to intermediate gain, to turn into a huge play.
- Play disciplined. The Texans must play disciplined up front (I'm looking at you, Clowney), especially late in the game. It's tough enough to stop offenses in today's game; there is no need to make life more difficult and give the Eagles free yardage.
- Compliment the offense. I don't mean tell Deshaun Watson his socks look cool. I mean that when the offense scores, the defense must follow it up with a stop. The lead will increase; the confidence of the team will increase; and the team will have a happy flight home for their grand finale against Jacksonville.
While the defending champion Eagles have not been as dominant as most expected, they are still the champs, and they still have a shot at the playoffs. On the road against a desperate team, with a first round bye on the line, the Texans get a chance to flex their muscles and show that they belong in the championship conversation. Sunday's game is also a test for Coach O'Brien to see how well he can match wits with an elite coach such as Doug Pederson, prior to facing the likes of Belichick and Andy Reid in January.
Texans play at Philadelphia. Texans are 0-4 against the Eagles. Oilers were 0-7. That's Philadelphia 11, Houston 0!— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) December 17, 2018
Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are 0-4 against the Eagles all time. What better time to bust that streak than Sunday? The Texans control their destiny not only for the division but also for a first round bye. Winning Sunday gives the Texans the AFC South, and winning the final two games guarantees a first round bye. There is even a possibility the Texans could secure both the division and a bye on Sunday, by coupling a victory with New England's third consecutive loss.