(CBS Detroit) — The Houston Texans and Detroit Lions had both hoped for better results coming into the season. The 3-7 Texans opened things up against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, followed by then AFC favorite Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who still remain undefeated. Starting off strong would’ve been a tall order for any team, but the Texans never really fell into a groove after that. They didn’t find the win column until Week 5 against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars. And to date, two of their three wins have come against the Jags.
While the Texans probably aren’t catching the Indianapolis Colts or Tennessee Titans in the AFC South, the Lions, now 4-6, still have a shot in the NFC North. It will be an uphill battle, however. They’ve lost each of their three division games so far, along with challenging matchups against the Colts and New Orleans Saints. But the Lions have looked good at times, too, like when they took down the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.
Last Sunday’s shutout loss to the Carolina Panthers wasn’t one of those times. And those types of performances, against teams starting their backup quarterback, won’t pull them back into the division race. The Lions will look for a better showing when they host the Texans on Thanksgiving.
The Texans are coming off a 27-20 win over the sputtering New England Patriots. Deshaun Watson was his usual versatile self, going 28-37 for 344 yards and two touchdowns, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers. It was his fifth 300-plus-yard passing outing in his last seven games and his seventh multi-touchdown game of the season. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks each have 47 catches on the season, though neither has been quite able to fill the big void left by DeAndre Hopkins, who already has 72 catches for the Arizona Cardinals.
“They’ve captured a semblance of momentum at least, positive energy around what they’re doing,” according to NFL On CBS reporter Evan Washburn. “There’s been so much volatility with that organization this year that you can tell there was a sigh of relief. They just had that big win at home against the Patriots. Deshaun Watson statistically, and when you watch the tapes, is playing as well as he’s played over the course of his career. It’s a testament to the fact that this is the ultimate team game. He needs everyone around him to be better so that this team, including the staff, can win as many games as Deshaun is probably worthy of.”
Clearly the 10-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns a couple weeks ago was an aberration, at least as far as Watson and the passing game is concerned. Houston’s passing game remains among the NFL’s best, averaging 274.3 yards per game. But its running game is among the league’s worst, averaging 84.6 yards per outing. The Texans have yet to have a 100-yard rusher this season. Many weeks they fail to crack 100 yards as a team, even with a mobile quarterback.
Part of the reason the Texans’ offense tilts toward the pass may be that their defense can’t stop anyone, leaving Watson and company to play catchup. The Houston defense allows an eye-popping 411.7 yards per game, second worst in the league. They aren’t much better in points allowed, giving up 30-plus points in six games so far. Can they slow a Lions offense that relies almost as much on Matthew Stafford as their own does on Watson?
Stafford didn’t look like himself in last Sunday’s 20-0 loss to the Panthers. He claims the torn ligament in the thumb on his throwing hand wasn’t an issue. Maybe the problem was all the missing offensive weapons; D’Andre Swift, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola were all out with injuries. Either way, the middle-of-the-pack Lions offense looked bottom-of-the-barrel against Carolina. Stafford managed a paltry 178 yards through the air. The Lions, as a team, picked up just 40 yards on the ground.
“I think Detroit is in a tough spot right now,” says Washburn. “Matthew Stafford, obviously dealing with injury, isn’t himself. He’s really tough, so you have to imagine he’ll find a way, as he did last week, to play. But they just don’t seem to have enough offensively to be able to be competitive in some of these games.”
Despite their first shutout in over a decade, their Lions’ stats on the season are better, though not by enough to make them truly competitive. They average 247.5 yards passing and just 95.4 yards rushing, both low to mid-tier as their NFL counterparts go. The 22.7 points they put up is the same as the Texans. With so many injuries — seven offensive players are already listed as out or questionable for Thursday, now including wide receiver Marvin Hall and tight end T.J.Hockenson — those numbers are unlikely to improve.
It will be up to a Lions defense that has also had its fair share of struggles and its own injury issues. They’re middle of the pack against the pass, allowing 247.5 yards per game. Kyler Murray threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3, but the Lions also picked him off three times. A similar level of success against Watson would give Detroit a chance. But their secondary is a little thin, with Mike Ford, Jeff Okudah and Will Harris all nursing injuries.
The Texans are three-point favorites going into Thanksgiving against a Lions team that plays on the holiday every year. And it almost doesn’t matter that the Lions are having a difficult season. As Washburn sees it, “there’s something about, whether Detroit is winless, not playing well, playing really well, to have them on a Thursday, wearing some version of a throwback. Who knows what uniform, there at Ford Field? It’s cool for us at CBS to have that classic team, in this case a matchup with Houston. There’s identifiable things to Thanksgiving, no matter how you celebrate it. And the Lions, good or bad, are always there for you.”
The Texans play the Lions Thursday, November 26 @ 12:30 ET on CBS.