The Houston Texans will travel to Los Angeles to take on the Super Bowl champion Rams on Friday night. The two teams will each be competing in their second preseason game of the season. Houston continues its rebuild with new coach Love Smith while the Rams hope to defend their Super Bowl title with any of the key pieces from last year's team returning. The Texans dropped the Saints 17-13 last Saturday night and the Rams upended the Chargers 29-22. The kickoff for this week's game is scheduled for 10pm EST.
Heat is on in HoustonJust two short years ago, the Texans looked like they were on the verge of being one of the premier teams in the NFL. They were being quarterbacked by Deshaun Watson, had the premier wide receiver in football in DeAndre Hopkins and one of the best defenders in football in defensive lineman JJ Watts. In a blink of an eye, all three players are elsewhere and the Texans are in full rebuild. The team is now led by 2nd-year quarterback David Mills. Mills started 13 games last season as a rookie as part of the Texans' dismal 4-13 season. Mills was 3 for 3 for 14 yards in two drives where the team failed to get a first down in the preseason opener vs. New Orleans.
“It’s a start," coach Lovie Smith said. “We didn’t have a lot of production when our one offense was out there, but we got what we wanted accomplished with him. He’s healthy going into Game 2."
The opener didn't feature many of the Texans' key players as Mills played just two series and the Texans' projected starting RB Marlon Mack had just three carries for six yards. The Texans did feature Mills' backup at quarterback, Jeff Driskel. Driskel had a solid night, going 16-for-26 for 165 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to rookie wideout Johnny Johnson III in the game's final minute. Another backup that had a strong game was rookie running back Dameon Pierce, who rushed for 49 yards on five carries. Pierce is a 4th round pick out of Florida.
Going 🆙 on a Tuesday pic.twitter.com/wXeWgOiDOx— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) August 16, 2022
The Texans' opener did not feature the teams' two first-round draft picks as they were without cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., taken third overall, and left guard Kenyon Green, the 15th pick, missing the game with injuries. Stingley has been participating in practice but is being used cautiously as he continues to recover from September surgery to repair a torn ligament in his foot. Green has missed practice time recently with a knee injury. Green has missed five straight practices and is listed as questionable for Friday night. Stingley Jr. is #1 on the cornerback depth chart and doesn't have an injury designation but his participation on Friday will be minimal if at all.
Champs Solidly on the OffensiveThe LA Rams kicked off their preseason against their fellow SoFi Stadium tenants, the Los Angeles Chargers. The offense, even without a majority of the team's starters, looked in top form as the Rams took out the Chargers 29-22 on Saturday night. In fact, the Rams didn't dress their top two quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford and John Wolford, and featured third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins completed 9 of 16 passes for 126 yards and also ran for 39 yards on eight carries, including a 1-yard TD midway through the third quarter. Perkins' performance may have solidified him a spot on the roster as he showed he has the capability of running the Rams' offense.
"I was really pleased with Bryce's ability to be able to handle all the different situations that came up," coach Sean McVay said of Perkins. "He's a playmaker. I thought (offensive coordinator) Liam (Coen) did a good job of putting him in good spots to accentuate his skill sets."
Another player that had a standout performance in a game full of reserves was rookie wideout Lance McCutcheon, an undrafted free agent. McCutcheon finished with five receptions for 87 yards. He also had a reception for a 2-point conversion following Perkins' rushing touchdown. McCutcheon made a circus catch along the sidelines from Perkins for a 60-yd touchdown in the second quarter.
"I just saw the ball in the air, and first I was just trying to come down with it. Went up in a contested catch, and was just able to move the ball away and get my arm in there," McCutcheon said.
Lovin' the process. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9oGJVHG1B6— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) August 16, 2022
The Rams will likely feature the backup running backs again this week such as Raymond Calais, AJ Rose and Jake Funk. The Rams have been practicing without the team's top two running backs, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, who is not practicing while they deal with soft-tissue injuries. The Rams continue to take caution as they know the importance of the regular season far supersedes preseason games.
"[With] soft-tissue things, it's always a difficult thing because you don't want to ever push somebody," McVay said. "And that's where they've got to do a good job of communicating to us. ... And so the first goal for those guys is let's check the box on them feeling like they can really open up, no restrictions. I don't know if you ever really feel great at any point moving forward, especially at running back, but we want to be smart with that."
Don't expect to see either running back on Friday night and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, dealing with elbow issues, will also likely sit out the game as he continues to manage the pain in his throwing elbow. McVay has stuck to a similar policy in each of the last four preseasons: rest the starters. Here's McVay's take on preseason just last year:
"We'll get a chance to see a lot of our depth guys because there's going to be probably about 35 players that are not playing in this game for us," McVay said during last year's training camp. "The goal is always to try to stay healthy."
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Once again, Lovie Smith and the Texans enter a game that is more important to them than it is to their opponents. The Rams won't be playing any of their top players, including Stafford, Donald, Kupp and either of the team's top two running backs. McVay has a preseason policy that is now going on five years that involves the resting of all his key players. For three years, McVay rested all his starters and, last season, he increased that policy to key rotation players as well. Expect the Rams to feature a lineup of 35 backups with a number of bubble players fighting to make the squad. Not surprisingly, McVay is 6-10 all-time in the preseason including four straight losses. The Texans, on the other hand, are trying to establish a culture, a winning culture. They will not be resting key pieces in this game excluding those that have any nagging injuries. While I don't expect to see Stingley Jr. playing in this game, I do expect to see more of Mills at QB. Mills played two series in the opener but I expect to see him closer to a half in this matchup. Mills, a second-year quarterback with 13 NFL games under his belt, should fair well against the Rams backups on the fast track in SoFi Stadium. Love Smith is a veteran coach who understands the importance of building up a team and I expect to see the Texans going all out in this one looking to continue a winning trend.
Lay the points and take the Texans.
Full-Game Total Pick
This number has jumped up two points since the beginning of the week. The Texans produced 17 points in the opener, with 7 coming with under a minute to go in the game. The Rams produced 29 points but that number may be inflated by a couple of unreal catches by the Rams that produced points. I fully expect the Texans to play a large percent of their first unit defense in this game against what will certainly be all backups for the Rams. In fact, in some key positions, the Rams will be using third-string players. Take advantage of the jump in the over based on a Rams' score that is deceiving. Last season, with the same approach to the preseason, the Rams played to the under in each of their preseason games. The Rams high scoring total was 16 points while using a lineup of strictly backups. I expect that type of number again from the Rams while the Texans will be at 20 points max with their offense.
Take the under, 38.5 points.