TEXANS TRY TO AVOID GOING DOWN 0-4
3rd-and-10 report: Texans look for first win of the season vs. Vikings
For the third week in a row, a visually frustrated J.J. Watt addressed the media following the results of the Houston Texans' recent game. For the third week in a row, Watt expressed his dissatisfaction in the Texans performance — which came during a 28-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And for the third week in a row, Watt and the Texans are left scrambling for answers ahead of their next match.
Houston is sitting at 0-3 on the season thus far. The last time they started the year with three consecutive losses, the Texans reeled off nine wins in a row to end the 2018 season at 11-5. The perseverance Houston displayed after a rough start to the season may not be replicated two years later. This is a completely different team in 2020, but anything is possible in the sports world.
If the Texans have any hope of turning their season around, a home match against the Minnesota Vikings would be a great start. After losing to the Titans in their previous game, their NFC counterparts will entering NRG Stadium — also looking for their first win of the season.
A victory on Sunday would not only put Houston in the win column, but one that will prevent the Texans from replicating their worst start in franchise history — their first 0-4 start since 2008.
"We usually pride ourselves on two things; that's stopping the run and creating turnovers, and we haven't been very talented in either of those up to this point in the season," Justin Reid said following practice on Thursday. "We need to get back to playing Houston Texans football, which is not only stopping the run but dominating the run, creating those turnovers."
Less running more throwing
Through the first three games of the regular season, the Texans have made it a priority to become a more balanced offensive team in 2020. The only problem, Houston's offense has only found success in the passing game as of yet. After an encouraging debut against the Chiefs, the running game for the Texans has been nonexistent.
David Johnson — who ran for 77 yards on 11 carries in Kansas City — has averaged 2.5 yards on the ground on 24 attempts over the past two games. Albeit they have gone up against some of the NFL's top defensive teams, the Texans should always think pass-option first — especially with Deshaun Watson as their franchise quarterback.
The Texans held a 21-17 lead at the half during their Week 3 loss against the Steelers. Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, and Randall Cobb combined for eight catches for 129 yards and appeared to be a team who discovered their mojo in the passing game.
Despite the success, the Texans reverted to their run game during the second half, which resulted in 51 total yards on 17 plays. Houston's trio of receivers after a blazing start — three catches for 44 yards.
The Vikings' secondary is currently ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass defense efficiency (23rd) and has given up almost 1,000 receiving yards through the first three games of the season (877). Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly should exploit the Vikings' pass coverage as much as possible on Sunday. Not only would it give the Texans their best chance of winning their first game, but it could also build more chemistry between Watson and his new core of receivers.
Limiting the run game will not take Johnson out of the offensive scheme. He is still one of the best pass-catchers coming out of the backfield, and utilizing Johnson in the passing game will give Watson another trustworthy target on Sunday.
"We always want to be balanced in what we're doing so obviously the game is going to kind of determine how that's going to go," Tim Kelly said. "We want to make sure, again, we're doing what we can to put as many points on the board and put this team in the best position to win."
Avoiding another 4th quarter collapse on defense while containing Dalvin Cook
At some point, it is time to start showing some remorse toward the Texans' run defense.
After they allowed Clyde Edwards-Helaire to rush for 138 yards in his NFL debut, an unfair narrative has followed Houston's run defense. Yes, they have given up an average of 188.3 rushing yards thus far (32nd in the league), but the bulk of their troubles has come during the fourth quarter.
Over the past two games, the Texans have given up an average of 110.5 rushing yards during the final period. It's an unfortunate situation due to Houston's inability to stay on the field on offense. Through three quarters, the Texans run defense has only given up an average of 89 yards on the ground — which will be beneficial in trying to slow down Vikings' running back, Dalvin Cook.
After a slow start to the year, Cook exploded for 181 yards in Minnesota's 31-30 loss to the Titans. Vikings' head coach Mike Zimmer described the one-time Pro-Bowler as a tailback who runs with "power and determination" once he gets into the open field.
However, the opportunity to get into the open field has become a little of a hassle in 2020. Minnesota's offensive line has had a mediocre start to begin the year, and it has shown in their run blocking at times — mainly due to their interior line.
The Vikings' inconsistent o-line should be enough for the Texans — led by a determined Watt — to put to rest the narrative that they are atrocious at stopping the run in the mist of containing Cook in the process. If the offense can take care of business on their end, the Texans' run defense is sure to follow.
"He's [Dalvin Cook] very fast," Watt said. "He's very quick. He's got great vision. He's got all the things you're looking for out of a running back. He executes very well. That's what makes him good."
The effects of COVID-19 and the Vikings
It was only a matter of time before the effects of COVID-19 would reach the NFL season. On Tuesday, the league announced that three players and five team personnel members of the Tennessee Titans tested positive for COVID-19. The news of the league's first in-season outbreak led several teams to alter their plans for the week — including the Texans — but none more so than the Vikings.
Since the Vikings were the Titians' previous opponent, Minnesota had to undergo heavy testing. They were forced into virtual preparation for Sunday's game and did not return to the practice field until Thursday.
It is an unfortunate situation, but the Texans might be a step or two ahead of the Vikings given the possible lack of preparation due to COVID concerns. If the Texans focus on attacking Minnesota's secondary while the defense put limitations on Cook, Houston's first win of the 2020 season should come on their home turf this Sunday.
Texans 27 Vikings 17
Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis24.