Five Keys: Houston Texans at New York Giants

After studying Houston’s performances en route to their 2-0 start, here are our five key things for the Giants to think about as they look to secure their first victory this Sunday.

It Starts With J.J. Watt

It’s fair to say there isn’t a more dominant player on defense in the NFL than J.J. Watt, so it goes without saying that the Giants should have their eyes on him every offensive snap. More importantly, he’s an absolute matchup nightmare for one of Big Blue’s biggest problem areas – the interior offensive line. The Texans will try to blitz and cause some confusion (keep an eye on safety D.J. Swearinger), but the problem player in pass rush is Watt, by enlarge. Putting an extra body consistently on Watt is not just recommended; it will practically be necessary. If the Giants can neutralize Watt, they shouldn’t fear the rest of what Houston has to offer in terms of pass rush, especially with first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney out with an injury.

Don’t Let Special Teams Gaffes Become an Issue Again

The Giants let go of a lead they would not recover against the Cardinals in the blink-of-an-eye. Chiefly to blame was the special teams units, from the inability to tackle Ted Ginn Jr. to the fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. Such an embarrassing display seems fluky, but the Giants will need to bring their best when it comes to special teams as the Texans have already made some splashes of their own. Watt blocked an extra point versus the Redskins (and has blocked several other field goals in the past) and in the same game the Texans scored off a blocked punt. Clean it up on special teams, and the Giants can prevent giving away cheap scores.

2-0 is to be Respected, but Not Feared

Make no mistake about it, the Texans can be a playoff team this season. They have a visible formula for success as they have turned the ball over just once in two games. Houston has game-breakers on both sides of the ball. How have they gotten to 2-0, though? They handled the Raiders with ease last week in what absolutely has to be one of the worst performances of the season yet by Oakland. The Raiders couldn’t run the ball nor could they stop Houston on the ground, fumbled countless times (including twice on the same play), and Derek Carr threw two picks. Against Washington in Week 1, the Texans won a close game on the balance of a handful of big moments. They blocked a punt for a touchdown, DeAndre Hopkins scored a big touchdown catch on a blown coverage, Robert Griffin III mishandled a hand-off in the red zone which led to a fumble recovered by Houston, and a big play to Niles Paul that brought Washington into the red zone later in the game would also end in a fumble recovered by Houston. Houston have not beaten themselves, and they’re making plays when they matter, and have benefitted from some fortune as well. A sloppy performance and the Giants will not win, but clean up the mistakes and make some plays of their own and the Giants can come away with victory.

All Eyes on No. 23

What Houston wants to do on offense is simple, and it centers around Arian Foster. Throughout the first two weeks Foster has more rushing attempts on his own than Ryan Fitzpatrick has passing attempts. This is the first real test the Giants will face in terms of a team coming in and really focusing on establishing a running game, and taking away Foster will go a long way to ensuring victory. The Texans are likely to be very patient with the run, and so far have shown a tendency run the ball even in uncommon situations (2nd down regardless of distance, 3rd and longs). The Giants defensively must also show discipline and hold Arian Foster to a nondescript performance.

No Hidden Gems on Houston’s Offense

Most teams with big name offensive talent like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster have lesser-known niche role players that benefit from the attention the stars take away. If there is one on Houston, he has yet to make himself known. The game plan on offense for Houston has been very star-centric: Foster is going to get the ball a lot (roughly 70% of the team’s carries), and Johnson, Hopkins and once again Foster will make up the majority of the team’s passing attack (the trio is responsible for over 80% of Fitzpatrick’s completions). Johnson and Hopkins are no slouches, but the Giants should feel comfortable matching their two best corners up against Houston’s receiving duo and knowing that Houston is unlikely to have any secret superstars up their sleeve.

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