The Detroit Lions are no strangers to playing on Thanksgiving Day while the Houston Texans will be making their first appearance. To get a feel for this game from the Texans side of things, I got together with Claire Mullins from State of the Texans for a Q&A.
1. How do Texans fans feel about their team playing on Thanksgiving Day?
Claire Mullins: Texans fans as a whole are pretty excited about all the additional national coverage this year and playing on Thanksgiving is no small deal to the fans, and it seems the team. It’s likely well known, but the Texans have never been honored with a game on Thanksgiving and fans are stoked to watch our Bulls play nationally on one of the most important days of the regular season. The only complaint is the time. 11am seems awfully early. But we’ll take it.
2. The Texans are such a balanced team with a good offense and good defense, what is the key to success when facing the Texans?
CM: On defense and special teams, it’s the big play. On defense, the Texans do the little things so well that they must typically be blown up by an awesome feat (which somehow, Jacksonville accomplished in multiples last Sunday) to get burned. Special teams is the Texans weakness. Force a fumble there or burn us for a large return. That’s happened more times than Texans fans would like to acknowledge. On offense, it is really hard to pinpoint a weakness. In a pass first league, HC Gary Kubiak has built the team around the running game with RB Arian Foster leading the helm. That wears many defenses down. When the run isn’t happening, we saw what QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson and the rest of the receiving corps are capable of when they are forced into action.
3. Did last week’s game against the Jaguars expose any flaws the Lions can exploit?
CM: That was a treacherous performance. The Texans pass rush was virtually non-existent minus, of course, DE J.J. Watt who tallied 8 tackles, a sack and a pass defended. S Danieal Manning also had a sack and a forced fumble. But where are our linebackers in terms of the pass rush? OLB Connor Barwin and OLB Brooks Reed have been less than stellar, almost a weakness, and fans are starting to clamor for more rookie LB Whitney Mercilus. When he has played, he has been stellar. And we cannot forget, Pro Bowl CB Johnathan Joseph is questionable until game time. This allows Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford a non-elite defender to play catch against. The challenge could be huge when the Texans are faced with the #1 offense in the NFC and #1 passing offense in the NFL. Regarding the Texans offense, the right side of the offensive line can be weak and Schaub has been taking hits primarily from that side. Attack there and you will eventually get something.
4. What lesser known Texans players should Lions fans look out for on Thursday?
CM: TE Garrett Graham is finally showing off his impressive receiving skills and can rumble downfield. Graham went for 82 yards on 8 receptions and 2 TDs versus Jacksonville. Of course, Detroit’s defense is ranked 9th in pass defense, where Jacksonville is 28th, so take that for what it’s worth. If Mercilus gets to play, keep an eye on him coming off the edge and helping Watt make Stafford nervous. In only 25 plays between Baltimore and Buffalo matchups, Mercilus has tallied 13 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He’s a force and fans are starting to question why we are not seeing more of him.
5. What is your prediction for the game and how do you expect it to play out?
CM: So hard to say. The big play can cancel out any opinion I have. I predict the Texans to win. Of course, I am biased. The challenges are also clear, though. Playing only 4 days after an exhausting game that took almost 5 quarters to finish is one. Another is the travel and strain of being on the national stage, combined with the start of a three game road stand and the opportunity to make the playoffs (in November!) with a win over Detroit. A third obstacle is the Texans have not been playing their best football lately. So while I do pick the Texans to win, there are some potential problems with that theory. If everything is perfect, I take the Texans 27-10. If everything is not perfect, that’s a crappy prediction.