With a short week of preparation under their belt after a brutal loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans set their sights on the Carolina Panthers for what will be their sole prime-time game of the season.
RECORDS: Texans (1-1), Panthers (2-0)
ODDS: Texans are 8-point underdogs... Over/under is 43 points.
STAT: Houston's defensive tackles have quietly been having an impressive season. Former Dallas Cowboy Maliek Collins is back to near his best, and currently ranks eighth in the NFL among defensive tackles for the highest pass-rush win rate, per ESPN.
Sixth-round rookie Roy Lopez has had far more of an impact than most had expected, currently first among NFL defensive tackles in run-stop win rate.
FUN FACT: The Texans are 2-3 against the Panthers all-time and have lost the last three. Over that period, the Texans have failed to score more than 17 points in a game. The Panthers won the last matchup in 2019 with the help of two field goals from Joey Slye, who is the now Texans' kicker.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Where else to start but at quarterback where third-round rookie Davis Mills will be making his first NFL start. The Stanford product will be taking the place of the injured Tyrod Taylor, who was off to a solid start.
Mills has shown flashes throughout the preseason and during last week's debut of what he's capable of. He has impressive arm strength, ideal size at 6-4 and intelligence. However, he is still a rookie and made his share of mistakes.
Playing before a national audience against a stout, young Panthers defense that has notched 10 sacks in just two games will be a real "welcome to the NFL" moment for Mills.
WELCOME ADDITIONS: One position group that took a battering last week was receiver, with the Texans without both Nico Collins and Danny Amendola. Thankfully, slot receiver Anthony Miller is set to make his Texans debut after missing time due to a preseason shoulder injury.
On defense, safety Justin Reid (knee) has enjoyed an excellent start, but looks out. Easing that loss is Lonnie Johnson, who returned from injury to play 26 defensive snaps last week. Johnson will likely start in place of Reid against Carolina.
Houston also lost starting corner Terrance Mitchell, who remains in the concussion protocol, meaning Washington-ex Jimmy Moreland might make his first appearance for Houston, after being inactive the first two weeks.
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HOUSTON'S KEY TO VICTORY: Defensive takeaways. Coordinator Lovie Smith has preached the importance of getting turnings since the day he arrived, and so far it has paid off. But with a rookie quarterback now calling the plays and two receivers now down, it's more important than ever that the defense gives Mills and Co. as many chances as possible to score.
Also, if the Texans stand a chance at winning, they'll need to find a way to slow down Carolina's front seven. Mills will need as much time and space as possible , and against the likes of Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson, that's a tall order.
If Mills can stay upright and if the backs can step up, Houston stands a chance.
GAME TIME: 7:20 p.m. CT, Sunday, Sep. 23
LOCATION: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
TV/RADIO: NBC/NFL Network, Sports Radio 610, 100.3 The Bull, Mega 101 FM
THE FINAL WORD: The Texans were widely expected to lose Week 1, but they didn't. They were the underdogs heading into Cleveland and not expected to do much, but if it weren't for Taylor's injury, Houston could have won.
The point is Houston has been a far more solid, well-coached and competitive than most had expected. Many speculated that the Texans to roll over and tank this year to land the first overall pick in next year's draft. That hasn't been the case.
Carolina is unbeaten for a reason, and Houston now has multiple key injuries. But this isn't the first time the odds have been stacked against the Texans this year and likely won't be the last.
Don't count the Texans out.
CONTINUE READING: How Will Texans' OL Stop Panthers' NFL-Best Pass Rush?