Saints-Texans Preview - Sports Illustrated

Saints-Texans Preview

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J.J. Watt's ability to get to the quarterback and a vastly improved defense have turned the season around for the Houston Texans.

And now they're getting Brian Hoyer back at quarterback.

Hoyer will look to pick apart the worst defense in the league while Watt and the Texans defense face a major test Sunday against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

Houston (5-5) has allowed 29 total points and an average of 244.7 yards during a three-game win streak to move into a tie with Indianapolis atop the AFC South. The Texans had been surrendering 28.4 points and 370.9 yards per game during their first seven.

The defensive revival continued with a 24-17 win over the New York Jets last week in which the Texans yielded just 267 yards.

Watt has been the catalyst for that success, totaling 7.5 of his league-leading 11.5 sacks over the last four games.

"In the position that I'm in, both trying to be a leader and also with the contract they gave me, I better go out there and do that or I'm dead wood over here," Watt said.

"I need to go out there and perform and that's what's expected of me. That's what I expect of myself. I am going to go out there every day and every single play try to find a way to affect the game."

Hoyer will again get his chance to have an impact after suffering a concussion when he was sacked in the third quarter of a 10-6 win at Cincinnati in Week 10. The injury forced him to miss one game, but T.J. Yates stepped in with two scoring passes against the Jets.

"Everything's clear," said Hoyer, who has won three of his last four starts while completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 924 yards with eight TDs and two interceptions.

He feels there's a way to keep the Texans rolling to their longest winning streak since taking six straight in 2012.

"Consistency is the name of the game at this level," Hoyer said. "You can't have one great play and a few plays that aren't so good. If we can keep getting more consistent and more consistent, it's really going to turn a corner."

Hoyer and the offense could be in for a big day against the Saints (4-6), who are allowing the most points (31.5) and yards (424.3) per game in the league. New Orleans is surrendering an average of 293.1 yards through the air.

The Saints emerge from their bye week with a new defensive coordinator in Dennis Allen, who replaced Rob Ryan when he was fired after the defense was torched for 510 yards in a 47-14 loss at Washington in Week 10.

"It's not like you can just go in and just wholeheartedly change everything you've been doing schematically," said Allen, who was promoted from senior defensive assistant.

"What we've got to do is try to give the guys a plan that they can go out and execute. Try to eliminate some of the white noise or the distractions for them, make sure that they feel comfortable and ready to play."

They'll need to be ready against DeAndre Hopkins, who has already matched his career high from last season with 76 receptions and has 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns. He's caught four scoring passes over the last three games, including two with 118 yards and five catches against New York.

The Saints, however, have a potent offense of their own that ranks second in the NFL at 414.5 yards per game, including 313.2 through the air. That's reason enough for them to still think reaching the playoffs is possible.

"If we're going to go where we want to go, it's going to be on the defense," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "The offense is rolling. They've been good every year since coach (Sean) Payton's been here."

That's had a lot to do with Brees, who is 28 yards shy of his 12th straight season with at least 3,000. However, he's coming off a season-low 209 while completing 19 of 28 passes with two touchdowns and two picks against the Redskins.

Brees has also been sacked 23 times - six shy of last season's total - and is well aware of the threat posed by Watt, who sacked him for the first of his career in Houston's 40-33 loss at New Orleans on Sept. 25, 2011.

"He's all over the place, in the nickel as well as in regards to the pass rush," Brees said. "They do a good job of moving guys around and making it unpredictable. You just have to have an awareness of where he is and certainly what he's capable of and just knowing you can't hold (the ball) too long."