Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Locher/AP/Shutterstock (13489109ba) Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas Texans Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Washington Commanders (5-5) at Houston Texans (1-7-1)
Game time: Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, 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 looking to get their second win of the season. The recurring storyline has been slow starts and an inability to finish late. Realistically the Texans are probably better off playing for the number one overall pick and their choice of quarterback in the draft.
For the Commanders, they are looking to get back in the playoff race in the NFC. After a 1-4 start, they have won 4-of-5 to even their record. The NFC East is the only division in the NFC where every team is .500 or better. Washington is in last place in the division behind the Dallas Cowboys (6-3), New York Giants (7-2), and Philadelphia Eagles (8-1). Getting over .500 gets them back in the thick of the race.
When the Texans have the ball: Houston will do its best to establish the run with bell cow RB Dameon Pierce. Pierce is the key to the Texans’ offense, as the passing game is not good enough to survive without the run game.
Nico Collins is another week removed from a groin injury that cost him a couple of games, and Brandin Cooks returned to the lineup last week after missing a game due to being unhappy the team failed to trade him at the deadline. The offensive line must be more consistent protecting QB Davis Mills and opening running lanes for Pierce.
TE Jordan Akins has presented mismatches for opponents, and Texans head coach Lovie Smith said he wanted to feature him in the game plan more.
When the Commanders have the ball: Taylor Heinicke will make his fifth consecutive start at QB for the Commanders. The former Texan is the definition of game manager, with five touchdowns and four interceptions to his credit this season. WR Terry McLaurin is an excellent player, and should find room to work with Texans DB Derek Stingley Jr. ruled out for the game.
The run game is anchored by Brian Robinson Jr. and supported by Antonio Gibson. The duo combined to rush for 130 yards last week against the Eagles in a stunning 32-21 win on the road to give Philadelphia their first loss of the season. They get the NFL’s worst run defense in the Texans this week. They combined for 40 carries last week, and this week should be more of the same.
Key Texans to Watch:
TE Jordan Akins: Akins has repeatedly drawn praise from head coach Lovie Smith this season since rejoining the team. Smith stated earlier this week that Akins has proven to be a reliable weapon and that the team needs to get him more involved in the game plan. Akins had three receptions for 72 yards last week, including a huge 46-yard catch and run to set up a first-and-goal situation. Akins has a terrific ability to rack up yards after the catch.
WR Nico Collins: Collins returned last week from a groin injury after missing the previous 2+ games, getting injured during the game against the Raiders in Las Vegas. Collins is a tall, athletic receiver capable of making acrobatic catches and winning contested battles. If the Texans had even average quarterback play, he would be getting talked about as a breakout star. Head coach Lovie Smith has called him a future number-one receiver. The time is already here. The Texans need to get him the football.
CB Desmond King: King will replace Derek Stingley Jr. in the lineup as starting cornerback. Stingley would have matched up with Commanders’ top wideout Terry McLaurin. King will get at least some of those reps. Stingley has not allowed a touchdown pass this season and has shown sure tackling on a team that struggles in that area. King will have to play at the top of his game to fill Stingley’s shoes, or McLaurin could put up some big numbers and make some impact plays.
QB Davis Mills: Mills’ inconsistency has been among the top storylines of the season for the Texans. His regression cannot be ignored. Head coach Lovie Smith has publicly addressed his poor decision-making multiple times. He put up some big yardage last week in garbage time, and he threw a backbreaking interception in the end zone that resulted in the second straight trip inside the red zone, where the Texans got no points at a critical juncture in the game. Mills tends to make the big mistake at the worst possible time. He will have his full complement of receivers, all his starting linemen. He must make a breakthrough this week for the Texans to have a chance.
The Bottom Line: This is a game on paper the Commanders should win because they are a better team, but it definitely looks like a game that the Texans will be close in come the fourth quarter. Whether the Texans have another meltdown will determine their fate. The Commanders are coming off a huge emotional win and could be in line for a letdown going from beating the previously undefeated division rival Eagles to playing the lowly Texans. Washington is not vastly superior to the Texans in any particular aspect other than run defense. This is a game the Texans could steal with a close victory if they don’t make the critical mistakes.