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Detroit News scouting report: Texans at Lions

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

Texans at Lions

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: CBS/760

Records: Texans 3-7, Lions 4-6

Line: Texans by 3

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has seven passes defensed and four sacks this season.

Matt Schoch breaks down the Lions' Week 12 Thanksgiving matchup against the Houston Texans for The Detroit News:

Key matchup

LIONS RUSHING DEFENSE VS. HOUSTON RUSHING OFFENSE

It’s boring, sure, but one of the reasons Houston has been bad this season is its inability to run the ball.

The Texans are 31st in the league with 84.6 rushing yards per game, and that’s buoyed by quarterback Deshaun Watson, who gets 26.9.

Houston made one of the worst personnel decisions in recent memory this offseason, trading away wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a couple of draft picks and running back David Johnson. Johnson is out with a concussion, leaving backup Duke Johnson to shoulder the load.

No doubt these guys have disappointed your fantasy football teams in the past, and the real version of them has disappointed Houston fans all year.

The Lions, of course, struggle in run defense, allowing 139.0 yards per game (30th).

Rookie John Penisini has been legitimately good this season and has been a sixth-round find by Bob Quinn.

But sixth-round finds aren’t enough to lift this dreaded defense.

Houston players to watch

J.J. Watt, DE: The former non-descript Central Michigan tight end has turned out pretty well for himself. Watt moved on from his one year in Mount Pleasant to star at Wisconsin after a position switch to become one of this generation’s best players. Other than his good looks and marketable and affable personality, the five-time Pro Bowler is perhaps best known for batting down passes. J.J. “Swatt” knocked down four Cam Newton passes against New England last week. He’s the first player in league history with four passes defensed and a tackle for a loss in a game.

Deshaun Watson, QB: It’s a down year for the Texans, but Watson has been stellar since Bill O’Brien was fired after Week 4. The losing also has forced Watson to go long a bit more than previous seasons, averaging a 8.53 yards per pass, second-most in the NFL behind Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (Michigan State, Holland). Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller V have combined for 21 receptions of 20 yards or more and Lions fans can count on some of those.

More: Matt Patricia no stranger to 'amazing' Deshaun Watson as Lions prep for Texans

Zach Cunningham, LB: There’s nothing we love to lament more in Lions’ lore than draft mistakes, and these linebacking groups show off a glaring one. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Lions used their first-round pick on Jarrad Davis. The Texans had taken Watson at No. 12 and in the second round, settled on Cunningham, one of the more productive players in Vanderbilt football history. Since then, Davis has turned into a situational player without much of a bright future. With Cunningham, watch how his length makes him strong in coverage, while he’s worked to get better against the run. He is one of two NFL players with triple-digit tackles this season at 101, according to NFL.com.

Texans inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) has collected 101 tackles so far this season.

Facts and figures

► It’s a common trope to say the Lions always play well on Thanksgiving, as Chris Spielman said during the broadcast on Sunday. Detroit is on a three-game Thanksgiving losing streak, the latest in a roller-coaster ride of a holiday season. The team had won the previous four holiday games to that, but lost nine straight before that streak. In all, the Lions are 37-41-2 (.475) on Thanksgiving. In all though, that’s a bit better than the overall record of 566-676-33 (.457). Houston is 1-0 on Thanksgiving (Jim Schwartz challenging the unchallengeable call in 2012, of course).

► Houston interim coach Romeo Crennel is the oldest head coach to win a game in NFL history (73). He’s the first coach to win his interim debut for two different teams. With a win on Thursday, he might force the team across the sidelines to ponder and interim coach of their own to finish this season.

► The betting line had settled on Houston -3 by Wednesday, which is a significant number in the betting world. According to research from TheLines.com, 14.5% of NFL games from 2006 to 2018 finished with a 3-point margin, by far the most of any digit. Many will watch to see if it moves a half-point in either direction by kickoff.

Matt Schoch is a writer for PlayMichigan.com and freelances for The Detroit News.