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Behind Enemy Lines: Texans host Cardinals in midst of three-game skid

Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien watches play against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Do not expect a high-scoring affair when the Houston Texans host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium.

The Cardinals only scored 10 points last Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks. But without rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, the Texans’ offense has scored a total of 14 points in their last two games with Tom Savage under center.

Houston’s chances of winning a third-straight AFC South division title seem to hinge on how the Texans’ defense performs. But without three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, the Texans’ defense has taken a step back in 2017. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s unit has given up 26.8 points per game, the second-worst average in the NFL.

The Cardinals have relied on Adrian Peterson since his arrival, but Houston has been stout against the run, allowing only an average of 99.7 yards per game. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Cardinals could have success throwing the ball against a Texans’ secondary that has been torched to the tune of 253.8 passing yards per game, the fifth-worst average in the NFL.

The Texans need a win to stay within shouting distance of the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Cardinals are right in the thick of the wild card picture. All week, we’ll take you to Houston to give you an inside look at the story lines and players surrounding the interconference showdown.

It’s Behind Enemy Lines.


Saturday, November 18

• Vandermeer’s View: Dre Day (HoustonTexans.com)

There’s important work to do this weekend. The Texans are in a deep hole at three games under .500. They have lost three in a row and are in desperate need of getting their offense going to stop the bleeding.

• Houston Texans vs Cardinals: 2017 Week 11: Three things to watch (House of Houston)

The team look like a beat-up jalopy trotting up and down the field with enough guff to get themselves in the end zone just once to avoid the embarrassment of getting blanked.  They, of course, ended up falling to the Rams 33-7.

• Robert Griffin III: I could help the Texans (Toro Times)

The 27 year-old Griffin was released by the Cleveland Browns back in March after playing only five games last year for them due to injury. He threw for 886 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 59.2 percent of his passes.

Cardinals starting QB Blaine Gabbert versus Texans (Houston Chronicle)

“I think he’s a quick decision-maker,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think he throws an accurate ball. I think he can move. I think he’s fairly athletic. I think he’s a smart guy. We practiced against him when we scrimmaged against San Francisco last year saw some good things from Blaine. High draft pick. I know that he’s had some really good games in this league and so we need to be ready to go.”


Friday, November 17

Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney: ‘I’m having an OK season’ (Houston Chronicle)

Despite the season-ending injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilius and becoming a marked man from blocking schemes, Clowney has still managed to tie his career-high with six sacks. He already has a dozen tackles for losses, four less than his total from all of last season with seven games to play.

Texans injury report: Chris Thompson sidelined with knee injury (Houston Chronicle)

The Texans’ return game is hurting.
With rookie wide receiver Chris Thompson sidelined with a knee injury and wide receiver Will Fuller out with cracked ribs, the Texans are shorthanded on special teams.

DeAndre Hopkins learned a lot from ‘big brother’ Andre Johnson (ESPN NFL Nation)

Hopkins’ breakout season was Johnson’s last in Houston, in 2014. Hopkins had 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns that year, during which he established himself as one of the NFL’s best. Johnson and Hopkins combined for 161 receptions in each of their two seasons together from 2013-14, and they totaled 2,209 yards in 2013 and 2,146 in 2014. The pair’s combined 322 receptions and 4,355 receiving yards from 2013-14 are the fourth most by any pair of teammates in that span.

Mercilus once star struck by Andre Johnson (HoustonTexans.com)

“The best moment of me remembering Dre was when I pulled my hamstring,” Mercilus said. “I want to say it was my second year in 2013 in the summer and we sat down in the meal room. I sat down right across from Dre and he turned to me and said, ‘Man, was that you who went down?’” I was like, oh my gosh. Dre just talked to me. He’s a legend.”

Houston Texans: Why the team should sign Robert Griffin III now (House of Houston)

The Houston Texans have become an absolute snooze fest because of Watson not being around with his ailments but one familiar name has recently said he’s open to signing with the Houston Texans.

Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt bonding in treatment room (Toro Times)

It looks like Houston Texans’ stars Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are building a strong relationship while they both recover from serious injuries.


Thursday, November 16

Bill O’Brien on Texans QB Tom Savage’s play: ‘It’s time to get going’ (Houston Chronicle)

Savage has lost all three of his starts this season, including the past two since replacing injured rookie star Deshaun Watson. Savage is in his fourth NFL season, but has started just five career games.

Texans assistant Mike Vrabel once caught an Adrian Peterson stiff-arm (Houston Chronicle)

“Guys were asking me if I got one of those stiff-arms,” Vrabel said. “I think I was in my 15th year in a preseason game. I came off the fullback and next thing I know I caught one of those stiff-arms in Minnesota.”

Texans impressed with rookie Zach Cunningham’s development (Houston Chronicle)

“The thing about Zach is he runs around and plays hard,” Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel said. “He’s much more physical than what we saw on film coming out. He’s just got to continue to develop and improve.”

Challenges mount for Texans’ Tom Savage after injury to WR Will Fuller (ESPN NFL Nation)

Fuller injured his ribs in the Texans’ Week 10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams while attempting to catch a short pass in the middle of the field from quarterback Tom Savage.

Injury to ribs expected to sideline Will Fuller this week (ESPN NFL Nation)

“He took a pretty good shot,” coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday. “He’s a tough guy. … Very tough guy, especially for the way he’s built. He’s one of our better receivers when it comes to blocking. He does a lot of different things for us that people probably don’t even notice. But he’s slightly built.”

Run game in focus as Texans get set for Cards (HoustonTexans.com)

Houston ran for 94 yards in the loss to the Colts, and 89 yards last week at Los Angeles. They’re now sixth in the NFL with 127.9 rushing yards per game. Getting back closer to that mark, or above it, is a priority and a bonafide possibility for the likes of Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman and Alfred Blue.

Tom Savage pops up on injury report (Toro Times)

It turns out that starting quarterback Tom Savage suffered a shoulder injury during this past Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams.


Wednesday, November 15

City of Houston makes Sunday ‘Andre Johnson Day’ (Houston Chronicle)

“When I came here in 2003 I never thought I’d be given a day,” Johnson said. “I came here just to play football and live out my dream. I see that now I was able to touch a lot of people in this community. And now to be given my day, it just means a lot.”

Texans work out tight ends Gabe Holmes, Brandon Barnes (Houston Chronicle)

The Texans have two tight ends on the active roster, C.J. Fiedodorowicz and Stephen Anderson, after placing tight end Ryan Griffin on injured reserve last week with a concussion.

Texans need consistent running game to spark struggling offense (ESPN NFL Nation)

The Texans have the NFL’s sixth-best rushing offense and have averaged 127.9 yards per game this season, but the majority of that came with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson under center. Watson contributed to the success with 269 yards on 36 carries in seven games, and his mobility also opened up the Texans’ passing game, giving them a balanced and effective attack that turned into one of the league’s best offenses.

Houston Texans: How Kevin Johnson has begun his ascent to greatness (House of Houston/Fansided)

Johnson delivered four bone-crunching tackles — with one assisted — that indicates his injury that he sustained earlier in the season — that caused him to miss five games — is quickly starting to be of little concern with each day that passes.

The Houston Texans are Searching for Answers (Scout.com)

O’Brien attributes the Texans poor performances the past two weeks to not finishing drives. Combined in those games, the Texans are 0-5 in trips to the red zone after being a top five team in the red zone with Deshaun Watson. Interceptions have really set the Texans back when Savage is running the offense.

Robert Griffin III thinks he could help Texans (Houston Chronicle)

Robert Griffin III is a quarterback who would like to get his foot in that revolving door again, but a team has to give him a chance.

If the Texans are in the market to sign another quarterback, all they have to do is give him a call, and Griffin will answer on the first ring.

Tuesday, November 14

Texans coach Bill O’Brien stresses need for consistency (Houston Chronicle)

“Finish drives,” he began. “There were five games in a row when we were scoring a punch of points. I know we had a different quarterback (Deshaun Watson), but we were finishing drives pretty well. We’ve got to get back to finishing drives – in the end zone, not with field goals and obviously not with turnovers.”

Without Deshaun Watson, Texans’ success will again rely on defense (ESPN NFL Nation)

Nine wins generally gives a team a chance at a playoff berth in the NFL — as it has for the last three seasons under O’Brien — which means the Texans have little margin for error moving forward. With an offense that has struggled since Watson’s injury, that means the defense has to step up and carry the team, just as the unit has had to for most of the franchise’s history.

Texans’ Tom Savage has struggled, but no better option on roster (ESPN NFL Nation)

(Head coach Bill) O’Brien said the Texans did discuss Kaepernick, but the team instead opted to sign Yates and McGloin immediately after Watson was put on injured reserve. On Saturday, Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, told the Reasonable Doubt podcast that the Texans’ poor play has made the case against the NFL “even stronger.”

The Texans had the fourth-easiest schedule to play in the second half, but as Houston showed in the first game on that list, it won’t be smooth sailing unless something changes. Now at 3-6 and three games back in the division, the Texans are quickly losing time to right the ship, and there’s no healthy quarterback on the roster who can help plug the Texans’ Watson-sized hole.

Texans tried to ‘mix it up’ with Braxton Miller at QB (Houston Chronicle)

The most experienced quarterback on the Texans’ roster besides the actual quarterbacks who play the position for a living is wide receiver Braxton Miller. On Sunday, Miller relived his old role as a quarterback at Ohio State as he was utilized in some Wildcat-style plays. Miller handed off once and rushed one time for a single yard during a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien didn’t sound thrilled with the results, though, or likely to expand Miller’s role as a quarterback.
“Just trying to mix it up a little bit,” O’Brien said. “I just felt like it didn’t really help the rhythm of the offense. It wasn’t Braxton’s fault. It just didn’t really help what we were trying to do. It didn’t have the effect that I thought it was going to have.”

Texans CB Kevin Johnson regaining old form (Houston Chronicle)

On Sunday during a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Johnson arguably delivered his best performance of the season.Johnson covered well and was an aggressive tackle, including a tackle for a loss on a Tavon Austin run. He had four tackles overall.

Bill O’Brien noncommittal on Texans WR Will Fuller’s status (Houston Chronicle)

Texans starting wide receiver Will Fuller absorbed a big hit Sunday from Los Angeles Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner, enough of one that he injured his ribs and left the game.

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