In a season of first’s, the Texans will play on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in franchise history. Traditional host Detroit will entertain the Texans at 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning. The Lions are 33-37-2 on Turkey Day, this is the Texans first taste of pumpkin pie, green bean casserole and cranberries out of a can. Vegas has the Texans as a three point favorite, here are some of the key match-ups which explain why.
- Texans DL vs. Lions OL: Detroit’s left tackle Jeff Bakus’ streak of 186 consecutive starts is in jeopardy because of a hamstring injury. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is mammoth (6’7” 325lbs) but should be no match for J.J. Watt – the best defensive end in football. If you’ve been looking for the Texans to rediscover the pass rush, Ford Field is a good place to start. You would have to give the edge to the Lions guard-center combo over the Texans nose tackles, but this match-up clearly favors the Texans.
- Texans Secondary vs. Lions Passing Game: Behind Matt Stafford, the Lions have averaged 302 yards per game through the air. The Texans allow just 214 – including the dreadful performance against Jacksonville. In the game against the Jags, the safeties in particular played horrible. Combined, it was the worst game of the year for Manning and Quinn. Against the Lions I expect them to rebound – if for no other reason than to show last Sunday was an anomaly, so the key to success will be the health of CB Jonathan Joseph. J-Jo tweaked his groin in the win over the Jags, but as of today, head coach Gary Kubiak sounded optimistic about his ability to play well in Detroit. He’ll be needed because the Texans face perhaps the best wide receiver in the game in “Megatron” Calvin Johnson. With Titus Young suspended for Thursday due to general stupidity, the Texans should be able to roll coverage to help whomever is assigned to Johnson, without having TE Brandon Pettigrew beat them.
- Texans LB’s vs. Lions running game: First, let’s be honest, the Lions don’t have a running game, so the essential responsibility of the Texans linebackers will be to put pressure on Matt Stafford. It may not be nice (or said “On Kirby”), but it’s fair to say that both Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin have not lived up to their respective hype, and perhaps even the expectations of the Texans brain trust. That needs to change and Thursday a perfect time to start. Detroit is anemic running the ball. Daryl Sharpton was impressive in his first game in a year. The time to reestablish the dominance shown down the stretch in 2011 is now.
- Texans Running Game vs. Lions Run D: The Texans are eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, the Lions 16th in rushing yards allowed per game. This would indicate a significant advantage for the Texans but consider me a dissenter when it comes to the “how well Houston runs the ball” talk. Arian Foster may be fourth in the league in rushing yards (949), but his 3.8 yards per attempt is 29th in the NFL, and when you consider 150 of his 249 attempts (60%) have gone up the middle – where the team ranks 22nd, that is a concern for me. (150 rushing attempts “up the middle” for Arian is more carries than six of the Top 10 backs have overall!) It’s not just that Arian has too many carries, it’s that Foster has too many carries going nowhere. In just three games this season Foster has eclipsed his career average of 4.5 yards per attempt. I would love for Detroit to be game four, but with the news on Ben Tate still sounding like he’s not ready (he didn’t practice again today – Tue.), I’m doubtful – and concerned.
- Matt Schaub (i.e. Passing Game) vs. Lions Pass Defense: I have often said you’re cramming a “square peg through a round hole” trying to make Matt Schaub either elite, or mediocre. Schaub fits perfectly in the description of above-average NFL quarterback. Above-average quarterbacks – when given time, can have great days. Matt on Sunday had a historically great game versus the Jags (2nd best in NFL history). Ironically(?), the Lions allow the same 214 yards per game through the air that the Texans have allowed this season. Outside of left corner Chris Houston, the Lions secondary stinks. So if given time, Schaub should be able to carve up the Lions. The major questions is, will he get the time? Ndamukong Suh is again playing at an above average level, while second-year pro Nick Fairley is having a Pro Bowl caliber season. This game will be a major challenge for the Texans OL – specifically the right side. On paper the outcome of the game probably comes down to the play of the O-line. Open some interior holes for the running game and keep Schaub clean and the Texans win easily. Don’t and….
As for intangibles, the Texans are 3-1 ATS (against the spread) on the road, while the Lions are 1-3 ATS at home. Furthermore, the Texans are 7-0-1 ATS after allowing more than 250 yards passing the previous week, and the Lions are just 18-37-2 in their last 57 games in November. Supposedly, this is a tough spot for the road team, but considering the Lions are just 33-37 overall on Thanksgiving and have lost nine straight, I’m predicting a Texans win. How about you?