Mandatory Credit: Photo by Trask Smith/CSM/Shutterstock (13383748ai) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) and tight end O.J. Howard (83) celebrate their touchdown during the 3rd quarter of an NFL football preseason game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX NFL Colts vs Texans, USA – 11 Sep 2022
Houston Texans (0-1-1) at Chicago Bears (1-1)
Game Time: Sunday, September 25, Noon CT.
TV/Radio: KHOU 11 TV (local) / CBS / KILT 610AM / KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)
What’s at stake: The Texans look to get into the win column for the first time this season, despite holding fourth quarter leads in both games this season. The offense has been particularly sluggish in the fourth quarter and has led to the defense, which has played reasonably well thus far, being put in some untenable situations. The AFC South is still jumbled, and getting a road win would help alleviate the pain of two missed opportunities for wins in the early going.
The Bears are looking to rebound off of a poor offensive performance last week as well, as they were dominated by the Packers. Justin Fields, Chicago’s second year signal caller, threw for only 70 yards on 11 official attempts, was sacked three times, and hit five more times. Green Bay also ran all over the Bears defense for 203 yards and 5.3 YPC. It’s 7 straight losses to Green Bay for the Bears, who must find ways to win games or get left behind in the NFC North.
When the Texans have the ball: Last week, Texans head coach Lovie Smith was direct in saying the team would find a way to feature rookie running back Dameon Pierce more. They did exactly that. Pierce was more successful in Week 2 and got four more carries than he did Week 1. That is a trend we should see continue with an increased workload for him. The passing game was stuck in neutral last week, as the Texans wide receivers struggled with drops and Davis Mills struggled with accuracy. Look for Mills to try to connect with Brandin Cooks early and often after Cooks took the blame for a failure converting in the red zone last against Denver. TE OJ Howard should also have a bigger role this week, as both Pharaoh Brown (Questionable) and Brevin Jordan (OUT) have been battling injuries.
When the Bears have the ball: The Bears best offensive weapon is RB David Montgomery. He racked up 122 yards against the Packers defense on just 15 carries. Montgomery is a smart, tough, physical runner who is patient and has excellent field vision. Backup RB Khalil Herbert has also excelled in limited time, with four carries for 38 yards last week. Add in the running threat of QB Justin Fields, and the Bears can ground and pound. Their passing game has been the worst in the NFL, so it is imperative the Texans not permit Chicago to run at will.
Key Texans to Watch:
QB Davis Mills: Let’s go with the most obvious one first. Mills had a rough game vs. Denver. Lovie Smith has said several times this week that the team needs to get the QB and his receivers on the same page. It has been a focal point of practice all week long. Mills was listed on the injury report this week with a right thumb injury, but OC Pep Hamilton said he was not aware of it affecting him in any way on Thursday. Every game in an audition for the Texans second year QB, and he needs to show that he is improving from last year’s five game stretch to close the season that had the team excited about his future. It’s important that happen soon, or he will find himself replaced come draft day.
WR Brandin Cooks: Cooks is a leader on the team and generally when he speaks to the media, he says a whole lot of nothing. Platitudes and props for teammates and coaches is usually the order of the day for Cooks, so when he says something else we take note. Cooks shouldered the blame for failing to catch an unnecessarily low throw from Davis Mills near the goal line that would have resulted in a touchdown when the Texans could have taken a 13-6 lead in the game. Instead they had to settle for a field goal. It was a play that could have had a dramatic impact on the way the game was played from that point out. Cooks has been an underrated, highly productive receiver for his entire career. Look for him to want to lead by example with a big game Sunday.
TE OJ Howard: The tight ends were largely a non factor against Denver as OC Pep Hamilton explained their game plan had a lot to do with trying to exploit the injuries in the Broncos secondary. Look for the tight ends to be more involved. With Pharaoh Brown banged up and Brevin Jordan out due to injury, Howard should see a bump in snaps. He’s a mismatch against any LB and nearly any safety as well. He caught two touchdowns Week 1 vs. the Colts and he should be able to get some looks this Sunday as well.
S Jonathan Owens: Owens leads the NFL in tackles, partly because he’s around the ball a lot and partly because too many running plays have led to his needing to come up and make plays. The Bears will run the ball as often as they can. In Week 1, the Texans run defense held up pretty well until there was four minutes left in the fourth quarter and the exhausted unit allowed 63 yards to Jonathan Taylor from that point on. In Week 2, the Texans run defense gave up several chunk plays to Javonte Williams but got a few big stops as well. They will need to be more consistent. If they are Owens won’t have to make so many tackles. If Owens has 14+ tackles again, it could mean David Montgomery and company are running wild.
The Bottom Line: The Texans need to get a victory to get the foul taste of failed fourth quarters out of their mouth. They need to finish games stronger than they have. Chicago is a very beatable team, and even with Mills struggles so far this season, he is still a superior passer to Fields and he has better weapons. Soldier Field is always a tough environment to play. It is one of the few outdoor, natural grass surface stadiums the Texans will play in, and the wind can be a big impact. They will need to make whatever adjustments are necessary to the elements as they are used to playing in closed stadiums with FieldTurf. Stopping the running game of Chicago is paramount to a victory for Houston. If they can get the offense going, they could win this game comfortably. That is a significant if.