For your (hopefully) socially distant Thanksgiving entertainment, the Houston Texans are traveling to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions. This is the 81st time since 1934 that the Lions will host a Thanksgiving Day game, their second against the Texans.
At this point, the Lions (4-6) are more known for their Thanksgiving game tradition, or for being the team on Tim Allen's manly, vintage sweatshirts from that one almost-funny TV sitcom in the 90s, than they are for winning actual football games. This past Sunday, the Lions were shutout for the first time in Matthew Stafford's tenure and the first time since 2009. While scoring points is an obvious must in order to win games, not scoring points against a Panthers team playing without their starting quarterback, running back, and left tackle, is just so emblematic of the Matt Patricia regime. The Lions have lost three of their last four games and have to perform better on offense than the 185 total yards, 10 first downs, and 3.4 yards per play they accrued against Carolina.
With no picks in the first or second round in the upcoming draft — and nothing really to trade to get them in those rounds — it doesn't really hurt the Texans (3-7) to keep winning games. They've won two of their last three, and the victory over New England was the first win against a team this season not named the Jacksonville Jaguars. Progress! Huzzah! Romeo Crennel at least has this Texans squad playing with energy and for one another since taking over the team in October. Perhaps with another win on Thursday, Crennel can finesse his way to removing the interim tag from his title.
Houston at Detroit
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 26, 12:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texans -2.5
Three Things To Watch
1. Detroit's running game... or lack thereof
Anytime your favorite team's leading rusher is 35 and on his fourth squad in as many seasons, that's probably a clue that your team isn't very good. Hello, Lions.
Adrian Peterson is the best running back of his generation and perhaps the last of his kind, but in his 14th season, he is hardly what he once was. However, that doesn't stop Patricia from feeding A.D. like he's still an every-down back. Peterson has 44 more carries than any other Lions back yet only has 58 more yards than the team's second-leading rusher, D'Andre Swift, whose 4.7 yards per carry is a whole yard more than Peterson's average.
For the season, the Lions are 29th in rushing yards (954), 28th in attempts (237), and 25th in yards per attempt (4.0). They've had just four games of 100 rushing yards this season and over the last five games have averaged a measly 73.4 yards per contest, including three games under 70 yards on the ground.
The Detroit run game was anemic as ever against the Panthers' 23rd-ranked rushing defense. The Lions had just 40 rushing yards, a 2.4 yards per carry average, and zero rushing first downs. Zero. None. Nada. Zip. The same number of points the Lions scored on Sunday. That is inexcusable, and it falls squarely on Patricia's completely inept offensive scheme. In the first four opening drives, Patricia ran Peterson on consecutive plays three separate times. Those six runs totaled just 16 yards. Those three possessions resulted in two punts and a fumble after picking up just 48 yards of total offense on 14 plays.
The Lions have a chance to do some damage on the ground this week against the Texans and the league's worst rushing defense. Heck, put Tim Allen out there in his manly-dad sweatshirt, and even he'd pick up a first down by accident. Houston is allowing a league-high 5.1 yards per carry and 1,593 yards on the season.
2. Speaking of bad running games...
... Have you heard of the Houston Texans? There are a myriad of reasons why the Texans have just three wins this season, and the completely lifeless run game is close to the top of the list. Houston is 31st in total rushing yards (846) and first downs (50), 30th in attempts (220) and rushing touchdowns (6), and 27th in yards per attempt (3.8). Opposing teams have gained nearly twice as many rushing yards against the Houston defense (1,593) as the Texans gain themselves (846).
Just 23 percent of the Texans' yards of total offense come from the running game, a league-worst. Houston has had just three games of 100 rushing yards this season, once in the last five games. And in those last five games, Houston has only had one non-Deshaun Watson rushing touchdown.
It certainly doesn't help the Texans that they've been without leading rusher David Johnson (concussion) for the last two weeks and will likely be without him again on Thursday. The other running Johnson, Duke, has filled in for David the last two games without much avail; just 69 yards on 24 carries, a 2.6 yards per carry average.
Houston was able to pick up the win against New England on Sunday with absolutely no running attack whatsoever. Watson led the land attack with just 36 yards. Only 55 of the Texans' 399 total yards of offense came from running the ball.
On Thursday, the Texans face a Lions defense that allows the third-most rushing yards per game (139.0) and the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (17). In the last three games, the Lions have been gashed for 480 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
3. Deshaun earning that paycheck
With no run game of which to speak, no defensive support, a so-so offensive line to protect him, and no big-play weapons to throw to, Deshaun Watson is proving that he's been worth every penny of that $160 million contract extension he signed in September. The entire Houston franchise, its future on and off the field, revolves around Watson.
After a somewhat rocky start to the season, Watson has kicked his game into high gear. In the last five games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception, posted a 116.2 passer rating, completed 70.9 percent of his throws, had three 300-yard games, and is converting an impressive 8.2 yards per pass. Watson had arguably his best game of the season in the win against New England. He completed 75.7 percent of his throws for 344 yards, with three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), a 121 passer rating, and 9.3 yards per attempt.
With a short week of prep and no time for injuries to heal, there's a good chance Watson will be even more shorthanded than he's used to going against a Lions defense that's surrendered 1,335 yards of offense in the last three games. Starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil is likely out with an undisclosed illness, and his two leading receivers Kenny Stills and Randall Cobb are both questionable after sustaining injuries in the first half of the Patriots game. Mix in the lack of a running game, and it looks like all the pressure falls on the shoulders of Watson to pull out a win. What else is new?
It's weird to think that the Texans would be a favorite in any other game for the rest of the season, but that's just how far the Lions have sunk under Matt Patricia. If the Lions have another performance like they had against the Panthers, Patricia might be home early for the holidays as the Lions rebuild for the future for the umpteenth time this decade. Give me Houston and Houston to cover.
Prediction: Texans 28, Lions 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.