Game preview: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/AP/Shutterstock (13424348ci) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills, center, talks to his teammates during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, in Chicago Texans Bears Football, Chicago, United States – 25 Sep 2022

Game preview: Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans

The Matchup:

Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) at Houston Texans (0-2-1)

Game Time: Sunday, October 2, Noon CT.

TV/Radio: KHOU 11/CBS, KILT-AM 610, KILT-FM 100.3, KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)

What’s at stake: The Texans are still searching for their first win of the season. Fourth-quarter offensive failures have led to Houston being winless despite holding second-half leads in all three games. The Texans are one of only two winless teams in the NFL. This week’s focus has been on getting Davis Mills and his receivers on the same page.

For the Chargers, they are once again ravaged by injuries while competing in one of the toughest divisions in the league. QB Justin Herbert is playing through a painful rib injury, DL Joey Bosa is on IR and having surgery, they are expected to be without their top WR Keenan Allen, and their starting LT is out for the season. They are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars 38-10 at home. The LA rush offense has been the worst in the NFL.

When the Texans have the ball: The team needs more balance, so I’d look for more opportunities for Dameon Pierce and Rex Burkhead to set up play action to make Davis Mills’ job a bit easier. Mills has struggled to connect with top wideout Brandin Cooks, who only has 13 receptions on 29 targets. The team has made a point about getting that connection going. TE Brevin Jordan will miss his 2nd straight game, so expect Jordan Akins to be called up from the practice squad once again. Akins scored his first touchdown since 2020 last week in Chicago. TE Pharaoh Brown was downgraded to a limited participant in practice on Friday, and his Sunday workload could be reduced. He played 81% of offensive snaps last week.

When the Chargers have the ball: The offensive line has struggled to open running lanes for RB Austin Ekeler. Ekeler is one of the top dual-threat RBs in the league, and the Texans are far and away the worst run defense right now. Expect the Chargers to try to get their run game healthy against Houston. Without Keenan Allen, WRs Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer will be the primary outside targets, with Ekeler playing a large role in the passing game as well. QB Justin Herbert is playing through a painful rib injury and could be hesitant to take off running with the ball, as a significant hit could knock him out of the game.

Key Texans to watch:

WR Brandin Cooks: He has been unusually quiet through three games, and the team has focused on trying to get him to break out all week. Cooks is seen as a team leader and wants to lead by example. He can make big plays, but he has also had some uncharacteristic drops in the early going. The Texans need Cooks to show his usual form.

RB Dameon Pierce: Last season, Rex Burkhead torched the Chargers for 149 yards and 2 TDs on just 22 carries. Pierce is expected to be the primary ball carrier Sunday and needs to show out after having ball security issues last week in Chicago with a pair of fumbles. A strong game for the rookie could go a long way toward Houston’s chances for a victory.

DE Jerry Hughes: Hughes already has four sacks this year, along with 3 TFL, an interception, and a forced fumble. The Chargers lost starting LT Rashawn Slater for the year, and his replacement last week, Storm Norton, struggled badly. This week, LA will start rookie Jamaree Salyer, their 6th-round pick from Georgia. Salyer was the Bulldogs starting LT last season, and he will have his hands full with the Texans’ veteran pass rusher. Hughes could greatly impact this game if the rookie isn’t up to the task.

CB Derek Stingley Jr.: In Week 2 against Denver, Stingley had his hands full with 6-4 WR Courtland Sutton. He will likely draw the assignment of covering the Chargers’ Mike Williams, also 6-4. Williams is also 218 lbs. and a physical player who knows how to use his body positioning to make contested catches while possessing excellent speed. Stingley will compete hard all day but will have to show he learned some lessons from Week 2, or Williams will post some serious numbers.

The Bottom Line: The pressure is starting to mount on Davis Mills, who needs to get back to the player he was in the final five games of last year and then start to progress more, or the Texans will be drafting his replacement. Every game is an audition for him, whether he admits it or not. Winning is the best way to alleviate the pressure. Mills must connect with Cooks this week, and the Texans must continue to improve in the run game offensively. Defensively, the Chargers would normally be a difficult matchup for Houston, but between Herbert’s injury and the injuries on their offensive line that have hindered their run game, the Texans must be able to show an improved run defense and maintain gap integrity on Herbert. Houston needs to play like the more desperate team Sunday if they are to get their first victory of the season.

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