Friday Stoots Six-Pack

Texans rushing attack key to victory Sunday in Denver

Lamar Miller has been playing well. Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

The Texans head to Denver for one of the toughest tests on their schedule. There's a nasty coaching situation in the Bay Area, magic is real, and two legends show down for maybe the last time. It's the Friday NFL Stoots Six-Pack.

1. Philip Lindsay is one of the best young running backs in football and he was an undrafted free agent. The former Colorado ball carrier is sixth in yards and averages 5.7 yards per attempt. With Case Keenum's struggles, the Broncos need Lindsay and need to feed him more. They have had a timeshare for most of the season with fellow rookie Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker. The Texans bottled up the best rushing attack they faced this season when they stymied the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott. If the Broncos aren't running the ball it is all on Case Keenum and he's been disappointing this season. 

2. The Texans have to rush the football as well. They' have won five straight but they had three games as tight as can be before the rushing attack got going. They handily won their last two games thanks to their rushing attack. It opens up play action for Deshaun Watson and if he gets anywhere close to the Dolphins performance the Texans will be a tough out for the Broncos. Greg Mancz has played the last couple of games at right guard for Zach Fulton. With Fulton on the mend, I would expect him to return to the starting lineup. If he doesn't mesh as Mancz did the rushing attack could be behind the success of the past two games. 

3. With the injuries mounting and the Broncos impressive defense, this is one of the toughest tests the Texans will have all season. If Houston pulls this out they should prove to many doubters about their potential as contenders in the AFC. This is a tough one to project with the Texans previously shaky offensive line and the Denver defense being so talented. If the Texans are going to win, every point could end up being important. The Broncos held the Chiefs and the Rams to their lowest point totals of the season. The team with the most mistakes is losing this game. It's worth noting, Case Keenum has an interception in every game this season. 

4. Nick Mullens and Kyle Shanahan embarrassed Jon Gruden and the Raiders on Thursday Night Football. Many expected Gruden would have the Raiders competing right away but they're in full-on rebuild mode. Across the field, the best coach in the Bay Area, and the second best in California turned an undrafted free agent from Southern Miss into a Thursday Night Football Joe Montana. Shanahan is behind Sean McVay but on the same track. He might be a couple of years away from showcasing it to the degree the Rams are in 2018. 

5. I accurately predicted the end of Fitzmagic and Ryan Fitzpatrick's benching weeks ago. I never anticipated Jameis Winston would be bad enough to endanger his potential earnings and future in Tampa with the Buccaneers. Fitzpatrick has a chance to really make some bank with this opportunity. He's only making a little over $3 million this year but multiple years and double-digit dollars loom if he somehow could lead the Buccaneers into the playoff hunt and close to the top of the NFC South. As for Winston, he needs to stay ready should the Fitzmagic runout again. Any chance, no matter how it comes this season, might be his last to prove he is worth investment for Tampa. 

6. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers square off Sunday to finish the day of football and if that isn't going to get you hyped nothing will. Cross-conference showdowns between great quarterbacks seem to happen so rarely this is a real treat. This Packers team is fairly dangerous having just pushed the Rams to the limit. The Patriots always seem to survive no matter their hindrances. It is just the second time they have played against the other as starters. In 2006 Rodgers took over for an injured Brett Favre. In 2010, Matt Flynn was Brady's opponent. This is also likely the last time we see this matchup. The Patriots seem poised to win this but with Rodgers leading Green Bay lets hope for a close game and a few lead-changing scores late. 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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