John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Chargers

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock (13419247bd) Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre (5) celebrates with Blake Cashman (53) and Grayland Arnold (35) after intercepting a pass against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game, in Chicago Texans Bears Football, Chicago, United States – 25 Sep 2022

John McClain: 5 plot lines for Texans-Chargers

After suffering back-to-back road losses to the Broncos and Bears, the Texans return to NRG Stadium against the Chargers. It’s their first home game since the 20-20 tie with the Colts in the opening game. Here are five plot lines that could contribute to the Texans’ success or failure.


Somehow, coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have to find a way to make sure their offense does something positive on the first series and in the fourth quarter rather than just stink it up as the Texans have done in the first three games.

One of the few things the Texans have done consistently on offense is go three and out on their first possession in all three games. That futility is a big reason they’ve fallen behind in each game. The offense just doesn’t seem to be in sync on its first series or in the fourth quarter.

Even though the offense hasn’t played very well, it’s helped put the team in position to win in the fourth quarter of each game. It would help, of course, if the offense could score in the fourth quarter when the Texans have been outscored 30-0.

Getting shut out in the fourth quarter for a fourth consecutive game almost guarantees another defeat. Despite struggling at times, especially when it comes to their running game, the Chargers have managed to outscore their opponents 26-7 in the fourth quarter.


Pep Hamilton needs to get the ball to rookie running back Dameon Pierce as a runner and receiver at least 25 times if the Texans are going to upset the Chargers. Having Rex Burkhead come off the bench to run the ball has become a waste of time.

The Chargers would disagree, of course. They have great respect for Burkhead, and with good reason. In December at NRG Stadium, Burkhead played the best game of his career. He helped the Texans shock the Chargers 41-29 with 22 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a 6.7-yard average per carry.

Since that game, Burkhead has 45 carries for 120 yards and a 2.6 average. He hasn’t scored a touchdown. His performance against the Chargers will go down as one of the most stunning one-game wonders in Texans’ history.


One reason the Chargers are off to a disappointing 1-2 start is their league-worst running game that averages 59 yards, including 2.6 a carry. The Texans, who have the NFL’s worst run defense (202.3 average) could offer veteran Austin Ekeler the opportunity he needs to have a break-out game.

In 2021, Ekeler ran for 911 yards and 12 touchdowns. He caught 70 passes and scored eight more touchdowns. The Chargers don’t have a rushing touchdown through three games. Ekeler has 32 carries for 80 yards, a 2.5 average. His longest run is 8 yards.

Not only do the Texans have to worry about Ekeler decimating them on the ground, they have to be concerned about him as a receiver. There’s a good chance he’s not going without scoring a touchdown in four consecutive games.

Lovie Smith better not have a linebacker try to cover Ekeler. A smarter decision might be to have rookie safety Jalen Pitre stick with Ekeler, who’s got to be licking his chops at the possibilities he’ll have against the Texans’ defense.


In the 23-20 loss at Chicago, rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. didn’t face much of a challenge playing against quarterback Justin Fields, certainly nothing like he faced against Russell Wilson in the previous loss at Denver.

The Broncos’ game plan was to have veteran receiver Courtland Sutton go against Stingley. Stingley made a few good plays, but, mostly, Sutton took the rookie to school with seven catches for 122 yards.

The Chargers have one of the NFL’s best receiving duos in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. They’re hoping that Allen, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, can return Sunday. Last season, Allen (106 catches, 1,138, six touchdowns) and Williams (76 for 1,146 and nine) torched cornerbacks catching passes from Justin Herbert.

Sunday is another test for Stingley in his development from being the third overall pick in the draft to becoming a lockdown cornerback. It’ll help Stingley if the pass rushers can pressure Herbert.


For the second game in a row, quarterback Herbert will play with  fractured rib cartilage. He took a lot of hits in the 38-10 loss to Jacksonville. The Texans may not be able to stop the run, but they’ve gotten to opposing quarterbacks.

In losses to the Broncos and Bears, the Texans faced mobile quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. They sacked them a combined eight times, giving them 10, tied for fifth in the league.

End Jerry Hughes, 34, has four sacks. Herbert has been sacked only three times in three games, but he absorbed a lot of punishment against the Jags, and that’s when he had left tackle Rashawn Slater, one of the league’s best at his position. He is out for the season.

If the Texans don’t find ways to generate pressure on Herbert, he’ll pick apart the secondary by finding ways to get the ball to a group of talented receivers in Allen, Williams and running back Ekeler. Pressure is primarily up to Hughes and ends Jonathan Greenard and Rasheem Green, but they would appreciate an inside push from the tackles.

(John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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