NFL Preview - Houston (9-1) at Detroit (4-6)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - While it is the Detroit Lions who are a fixture on
Thanksgiving Day football, the Houston Texans are primed to steal the
spotlight in their debut on the holiday tradition.
The Texans look to win their fifth straight on the road for the first time in
franchise history and keep the Lions winless on Thanksgiving for a ninth year
in a row.
The Lions have played 23 different teams in their annual holiday game, but
will face the Texans for the first time on Thanksgiving and for just the third
time overall. Detroit and Houston have split their previous two meetings, with
the home team winning each time.
Houston was a 28-21 winner in the most recent encounter on Oct. 19, 2008.
The Lions are 33-37-2 all-time on Thanksgiving, dating back to when the
tradition of playing on the holiday began in 1934 against the Chicago Bears.
However, Detroit has lost eight in a row on this day since a win over the
Green Bay Packers in 2003.
Detroit was bested by Green Bay last year 27-15 in the Thursday meeting
despite outgaining the Packers 409-349 as quarterback Matt Stafford was picked
off three times.
Houston represents that latest challenge for 4-6 Detroit as the Texans have
the best record in the AFC at 9-1 and won their fourth game in a row this past
It certainly wasn't easy as the Texans need to climb out of a 14-point hole
against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Matt Schaub completed a pair of
touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Graham over the final 5:39 of the fourth
The two clubs then traded field goals in overtime before Schaub flung a screen
pass to wide receiver Andre Johnson, who took the ball 48 yards for the
winning score to cap a historic day for the franchise in the 43-37 decision.
Houston's 640 yards of total offense was a franchise record as were the 14
catches and 273 yards logged by Johnson. Schaub threw five touchdown passes
with two interceptions and logged 527 passing yards, tied with Hall of Famer
Warren Moon for the second-most in a single game in NFL history.
"I get kind of tired of defending him to the national media," said Houston
running back Arian Foster of Schaub after the game. "I feel like he is one of
the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He throws one of the best balls in the game
and he's week in and week out consistent. We like to run the ball here in
Houston, a lot, but every time we ask him to pass, he does what he did today."
The Texans have won all four of their home games this season and lead the
Indianapolis Colts by three games for first place in the AFC South.
Detroit's playoff chances took another big hit this past weekend thanks to a
24-20 loss to Green Bay that dropped the Lions two games under .500.
Stafford continued his struggles following an excellent 2011 campaign as he
was picked off twice and lost a fumble. Detroit dropped its second game in a
row and is 0-4 against the division.
Calvin Johnson continued his excellent campaign, hauling in five passes for
143 yards with a touchdown, and isn't ready to give up on the season.
"The season is not over, man. We've got six games left," noted the wideout.
While playing on Thanksgiving is certainly an event, it does leave both teams
with a short week, just another obstacle to overcome.
"Put a loss behind you and move on," Stafford said of what the team will do to
prepare. "(We've) got a good Houston team coming in and obviously a team we're
unfamiliar with so we have to get ready."
Though the quick turnaround will be a grind, the clubs will enjoy an extra few
days off following the battle.
"That's what makes it really tough," said Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. "We
played five quarters of football and had 92 plays of offense. That makes it
very difficult on the guys. There is a carrot at the end of the week. As hard
as it is, you get a chance to give guys a break after the game and stuff.
You've got a big period between then and your next game. I think that kind of
gets them excited, but I've got to be smart with them and get them to Thursday
Houston actually has a chance to clinch a playoff spot this week with a lot of
help, starting with a win. The Texans punch their second straight ticket to
the postseason with losses by Tennessee, Miami, the New York Jets, Cincinnati
as well as San Diego or Pittsburgh.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While NFL fans prepare to feast on turkey and other provisions, two of the
game's best wide receivers will look to carve up their opposing secondaries.
Calvin Johnson enters the game leading the NFL with 1,117 receiving yards on
65 receptions and has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games after logging
only one through the first eight games. He has gone over 1,000 yards receiving
in three straight seasons and four times in his career.
"Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson. I don't think I have to say much about
him," said Houston defensive back Kareem Jackson. "Everybody knows about him.
... We'll have to do little things to kind of mix it up and kind of keep the
quarterback off balance and whenever we get a chance to double him and just
try to keep the ball from going to him."
He has taken a beating physically this season, but remains Stafford's top
target. Pressure will be added for this game after head coach Jim Schwartz
announced on Monday that wide receiver Titus Young will be inactive for this
game as a disciplinary measure.
Young was sent home on Monday according to Schwartz, one day after being
benched for the final possession of the loss to Green Bay. The head coach
would not comment on if Young had anything to do with a sideline argument
during the game between offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and receivers
coach Shawn Jefferson that was caught on television cameras.
"When you play a game like football, it's a team sport and players have
obligations to the team and Titus hasn't done a very good job of fulfilling
those obligations this week and recently. He'll be inactive this week and
we'll plug the other guys in and go on," declared Schwartz.
The Texans have had no such issues with Andre Johnson, who is rebounding
nicely after a hamstring injury held him out of nine games a season ago. The
31-year-old has logged 870 yards and three touchdowns on 60 receptions and
worked his way into Houston's record books again last weekend.
Andre Johnson had a game-high 11 catches for 141 yards in the last meeting
between these clubs, while Calvin Johnson made things interesting with a 96-
yard touchdown catch in the second half. The two will each look to shine again
"It's a great opportunity, something you probably dream about as a kid,
playing in a game on Thanksgiving. It will be a great opportunity for us and
we're going to try to make the best of it," said Andre Johnson.
That is something Stafford is going to have to do. Despite the Lions owning
the top-ranked pass attack in football and averaging 401.7 yards per game (2nd
in the NFL), the Lions come in at just 15th in scoring at 23.6 points per
Stafford has thrown for 2,988 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games while
getting picked off 10 times. He threw for 5,038 yards with 41 TDs and 16 picks
a season ago.
"Obviously I have to play better to give us a chance to win," declared
Stafford, who goes against the league's fourth-ranked defense in Houston,
including seventh versus the pass.
While looking to avoid Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, Stafford may pick on
Johnathan Joseph, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Playing on Thanksgiving is nothing new for the Lions, but they have little
to be thankful for with the Texans coming to town.
As good as Houston's pass attack was last weekend, the presence of Foster in
the backfield will keep Detroit's defense honest. For the Lions to have a
chance, the front four, led by end Cliff Avril and tackle Ndamukong Suh, must
shake off fatigue and lead the way.
"Body-wise you would prefer a couple more days, you know, physically or
whatever. But that's part of the game, you've got to play," noted Avril.
It will take a monster day from that unit for the Lions to have a chance,
while for the Texans it may just come down to how they handle the circus of
playing on the holiday.
"I mean, you can't get caught up what happened in the previous game. You just
have to keep plugging and keep moving forward," said Andre Johnson. "Every
opportunity you get, you just try to make the best of it. That's what I try to
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 27, Lions 20
11/20 16:35:17 ET