Texans vs. Chargers: Breaking down the matchups and picking which team will win

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt looks on during a game against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 9.
(Getty Images)

A look at how the Chargers (1-1) and Houston Texans (1-1) match up heading into Sunday’s game:

When Chargers have the ball

There might not be a unit in the NFL more eager to return to the field Sunday than the Chargers’ offense. In the second half last week in Detroit, the Chargers had more total yards, third-down conversions and first downs than the Lions and still didn’t score. That’s because they had two turnovers near the goal line and two penalties that nullified touchdowns. Of quarterback Philip Rivers’ most recent pass — an interception in the final 75 seconds — coach Anthony Lynn said flatly, “It was not open. We made a bad decision there, that’s all.” So Rivers will be among the Chargers trying to dramatically rebound, and he’ll be doing so against a defense that ranks 22nd in the league against the pass. New Orleans’ Drew Brees burned Houston for 370 yards in Week 1. Houston will counter, in part, with edge rushers Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt. “You always have issues when you deal with this defense,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. Running back Austin Ekeler also will be attempting to eliminate the sour taste of that loss to the Lions. His fumble inside the one-yard line in the third quarter proved to be a critical mistake.


The only answer that matters going forward is how the Chargers now respond against Houston at 1:25 p.m. Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park.

When Texans have the ball

Everything starts with Deshaun Watson, whose skills are such that Lynn called the Houston quarterback “insane.” In his past three road games, Watson has passed for 901 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. And Dignity Health Sports Park isn’t exactly known as a tough place for opposing teams to play. In those three games, Watson also has rushed for three touchdowns, a statistic that confirms defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s assessment that Watson is “very gifted at extending plays.” Watson’s most dangerous target is DeAndre Hopkins, who will be trying to top 100 yards receiving for a fourth straight road game. Asked how Hopkins could be best neutralized,Bradley smiled and said, “Well, I wish we had 12 [defenders].” The Texans lost starting running back Lamar Miller to injury in the preseason but have rallied behind Carlos Hyde. They are fifth in the league in rushing offense and second with an average of 5.8 yards per attempt. Last week in Detroit, defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram both stood out for the Chargers in helping slow down the Lions on the ground. Said Lynn: “That’s being really unselfish as an elite puss rusher.”

When they kick

The Chargers thought they were about to welcome back Michael Badgley, who missed the first two games because of a right groin injury. But his status was downgraded Saturday to doubtful, meaning punter Ty Long likely will fill in again. Long was AFC special teams player of the week against Indianapolis before missing two field goals against Detroit. Long has a net punting average of 46.3 yards. Neither of these teams has done anything notable in returning kickoffs or punts. At some point, that would seem certain to change. Houston’s kicker is former UCLA Bruin Ka’imi Fairbairn, who has made both his field-goal attempts and all five extra points.

Jeff Miller’s prediction

Just two weeks into the regular season, both teams already have suffered brutal losses. Houston fell in Week 1 at New Orleans on a last-play, 58-yard field goal. The Chargers basically gave away their game to the Lions, a 13-10 defeat that could haunt them later in the season. Lynn’s team hasn’t lost two straight since the middle of the 2017 season. “I think we’ll respond in a positive way,” he said. “We always have.” And they will again Sunday — but just barely.