Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13435875ad) Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) runs for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game, in Houston Chargers Texans Football, Houston, United States – 02 Oct 2022
Before the bye week, the Texans won at Jacksonville for their first victory. They have a 1-3-1 record going into Sunday’s game. The Raiders, who are also coming off a bye week, are 1-4 with losses by 5, 6, 2 and 1 points. Here are five plot lines that could determine whether the Texans escape Allegiant Stadium with their second consecutive upset victory.
OFFENSE HAS TO IMPROVE ON THIRD DOWN
The Texans’ third-down offense has been pathetic through five games and must improve for them to have a chance to defeat the Raiders. The Texans rank 31st, converting only 29.2 percent. Compare that statistic to last season when they finished 15th (39.7 percent).
As a rookie, quarterback Davis Mills was 20th with an 82.6 rating on third down. He threw six touchdown passes and five interceptions. He completed 63.6 percent.
This season, Mills is the worst third-down quarterback in the league. His 51.7 rating is last. He has no touchdown passes on third down and two interceptions. He has to improve under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who calls the plays.
“Third down in the current state of the NFL is you’re getting a lot of different blitz packages,” Mills said. “You’re getting designed coverages where they’re disguising and trying to catch you off guard. If we can stay in third-and-manageable, hopefully, we’re able to run the ball on third down, able to mix it up and get easy completions.
“Sometimes you have to just make a play. That’s what we talk about in the quarterback room. There’s only so much coaches can do to game plan and scheme against what they’re going to do on third down to get guys open. When we’re on the field, we’re the guys who make the plays. You just have to do anything you can to convert, and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
EXPECT PIERCE TO CONTINUE DOING HEAVY-DUTY WORK
If the Texans are going to upset the Raiders, they’ll need another impressive performance from rookie running back Dameon Pierce. In the victory over Jacksonville before the bye week, Pierce had 26 carries for 99 yards. Expect him to still get the bulk of the carries over Rex Burkhead, who plays on third down and is mostly a receiver.
The Raiders play solid run defense. They’re tied for fifth, allowing 103.2 yards. The Texans are 22nd in rushing (99-yard average). The Las Vegas running game is ignited by Josh Jacobs, who has 490 yards, including a 5.4 average, and three touchdowns. Jacobs has helped the Raiders rank 14th in rushing (121.4).
The Raiders will build their defensive game plan around containing Pierce. It’ll be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Hamilton allows Dare Ogunbowale to get any carries ahead of Burkhead, who averages 3.2 yards a carry.
LINEMEN HAVE TO CONTAIN CROSBY
The Raiders have recorded only eight sacks in five games. End Maxx Crosby has six of them. The other edge rusher, Chandler Jones, who left Arizona for Las Vegas, has yet to register a sack. Whether it’s left tackle Laremy Tunsil or right tackle Tytus Howard, the pass protectors have to neutralize Crosby.
“He’s an excellent player,” coach Lovie Smith said. “Good talent, size, quickness, speed, power — all of that. He’s relentless. He plays until the whistle blows. You have to love how he plays football.
“Our offensive line realizes we have good tackles. I know they’re excited about whenever you’re going against a great player like that. You have to be excited about playing against a special player like (Crosby). I know our guys are.”
Davis Mills has been sacked 12 times. He’s been inconsistent with his accuracy and decision-making, but no one can blame the offensive line.
“We need to know where both of those guys are,” Mills said about Crosby and Jones. “I think our tackles are up for the challenge. They’ve been really good in protection all year and will be looking to do the same Sunday.”
PASS RUSH HAS TO PRESSURE CARR
Speaking of pass rushes, it’s essential for the Texans to get after quarterback Derek Carr, who’s been sacked 11 times. The Texans had 10 sacks in their first three games but only one in their last two. End Jerry Hughes continues to lead with four. The defensive line needs end Jonathan Greenard to play. A calf injury caused him to miss the Jacksonville game. If he’s forced to miss the Raiders, the defense will need for Mario Addison to step up the way Hughes has.
“As far as pressure on the quarterback, look at the results a little,” Lovie Smith said. “Sometimes you don’t get the sacks, but there’s pressure to make the quarterback throw the ball when he doesn’t want to. I know we’ll need to be rushing as well as we have all year. It’s about our guys stepping up and putting pressure on a quarterback. If we don’t, they could really pick us apart.”
STINGLEY SHOULD SHADOW ADAMS
The Texans used the third pick in the first round on cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., for games like Sunday. He won’t cover All-Pro receiver Davante Adams exclusively, but he’ll spend a lot of time on him in Lovie Smith’s defense.
One reason the Raiders traded for Adams was to reunite him with his good friend and college teammate, quarterback Derek Carr. Adams leads the Raiders with 29 catches for 414 yards (14.3 average) and five touchdowns.
“That’s why we drafted him that high,” Smith said. “Each week there’s going to be a great receiver on the other side. Some weeks, that receiver is a little better than other weeks. He’s (Adams) one of the best. If you’re a corner, you have to be excited about that. For a young player like Stingley, yeah, he’s excited about this challenge.”
Stingley is one of four new starters in the secondary with rookie Jalen Pitre and veterans Steven Nelson and Jonathan Owens. They’ve helped improve the opponents’ passer rating against the Texans to 73.3 – fourth in the NFL – from 94.1 (21st) in 2021.
(John McClain writes four times a week for GallerySports.com. He 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 SportsRadio610.com).