EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two teams seeking their first victory of the season will clash Sunday when the Giants visit the Houston Texans in NRG Stadium. The Giants lost their first two games by a total of 12 points (to Jacksonville and Dallas), while Houston fell to New England and Tennessee, both on the road, by a combined 10 points.
This is the fifth meeting between the teams. After losing the first game against the Texans in 2002, the Giants have won the last three, including a 34-10 triumph in Houston on Oct. 10, 2010. The teams last faced each other on Sept. 21, 2014, a 30-17 Giants victory in MetLife Stadium.
What is the Texans' biggest strength?
Their ability to run the ball, which sets up a productive play-action game. Through two weeks, the Texans lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (157.5) and are third in yards per carry (5.3). Seven-year veteran Lamar Miller is fourth in the league with 166 yards. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose spectacular rookie season ended after seven games when he suffered a knee injury in practice, is exceptional at executing play action. Last year, approximately 30% of his throws followed a fake handoff, which was the league's highest percentage before Watson suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
Which player is key to the Texans' offense?
Many to choose from, but Watson is the key player in their operation. When he played last year, the Texans were the NFL's highest-scoring team, averaging 34.7 points a game. Without him, that average dropped all the way to 17.3. Houston also saw steep declines in yards per game (394.4 to 309.3), yards per play (6.0 to 4.7) and red zone touchdown percentage (67 to 25). Watson is a dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm, as well as an elusive runner who is difficult to tackle. The Giants' defense will look to contain him, because Watson can make plays with his arm or legs once he escapes the pocket.
What is the strength of the Texans' offense?
Although Watson throws to a pair of outstanding wide receivers in first-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins (111 catches, 12 touchdowns last year) and Will Fuller V, we'll stay on the ground. Any success Houston has starts with the run game. Miller, averaging 4.9 yards a carry, doesn't receive the acclaim accorded other backs, but he can do it all. He can gain the tough yards inside, has speed to the edge, he can catch the ball, and he's a good blocker. The Texans' second-leading rusher is Watson.
Which player is key to the Texans' defense?
The initial impulse is to say end J.J. Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But he missed 24 games in 2016-17 and is still working his way back to peak condition. He had six tackles (four solo), including two for loss, and forced a fumble last week, so he's very close. Strongside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is another defender no offense wants to contend with. But Jadeveon Clowney, who was inactive last week with back and elbow injuries, is the game-changer the Texans expected when they selected him first overall in the 2014 draft. When Clowney plays, Houston has one of the NFL's best defensive fronts. In 2017, Clowney was named to the Pro Bowl for a second consecutive season after setting career highs in sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (21), quarterback hits (21), forced fumbles (two), fumble recoveries (two) and tackles (59). That is a disruptive player.
What is the strength of the Texans' defense?
View the starters for Sunday's game
Houston's defense has impressive talent at all levels, but the heart of the unit is a group of linebackers that might be the NFL's best. Clowney and Mercilus are lethal forces on the outside. And the Texans have three inside linebackers that could start for most teams in the league. Benardrick McKinney is one of the NFL's best run defenders. Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole – a backup on the depth chart – are versatile defenders. Special mention to Romeo Crennel, Houston's defensive coordinator from 2014-16 who led the league's No. 1 unit two years ago before being moved to an advisory role – which lasted one season. Crennel is back running the defense and it is playing with renewed enthusiasm.
Which player is key to the Texans' special teams?
Linebacker and special teams captain Brian Peters has a nose for the ball on kick coverage. Tyler Ervin returns both punts and kickoffs and his 31.2-yard average in the latter places him third in the NFL.
Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?
New England and Tennessee established a formula for success vs. the Texans in the first two games: limit the big plays, pressure Watson and keep him contained in the pocket. Like NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, the Texans run a lot of option plays. If Watson is permitted to operate in a comfort zone, he can do serious damage. Offensively, the Giants must run the ball effectively and keep Houston's pass rushers away from Eli Manning.
Statistics you should know:
• The Texans have lost eight consecutive games and 11 of their last 12 dating back to last season. Their lone victory in that stretch was a victory against Arizona on Nov. 19, 2017.
• Houston is 1-7 in one-score games the last two seasons.
• Since Bill O'Brien became coach in 2014, the Texans lead the NFL in rushing attempts.
• Last year, Watson was the first rookie in NFL history with 1,500 passing yards and 250 rushing yards in his first six starts. His 19 touchdown passes in his first seven games were a league record.
• In 2017, Clowney had 21 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits. He was the only player in the AFC and one of two players in the NFL (with Arizona's Chandler Jones) to accomplish that feat.