Texans (9-5) vs. Buccaneers (7-7)
All-time record: Texans lead series 3-1
Home record: 1-1
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith):
1. Buccaneers WR Breshad Perriman vs. Texans CB Jonathan Joseph
Perriman is close to the last man standing in that banged-up receiving corps noted above. The Buccaneers spent most of the season with Perriman joining 1,000-yard receivers Evans and Godwin as the primary third receiver, and while his production was minimal in the season's first half it has exploded during the Buccaneers' four-game winning streak. In that span, Perriman has caught 14 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 22.4 yards per catch. While he was rarely targeted deep in the early going, he has recently been getting open downfield for Winston at an impressive rate. Perriman has nine catches of over 20 yards in the last four contests. Of course, the problem for Perriman in Sunday's game is that he isn't likely to be playing alongside of either Evans or Godwin, and that makes him the Bucs' top target. As such, he may have to deal quite a bit with Joseph, the Texans' ageless cornerback who leads Houston with 12 passes defensed. The Texans surprised some observers by reworking Joseph's contract to give him a salary bump in August, but that came after a 2018 effort in his age-34 season that was better than his 2017 campaign. Sure enough, Joseph is still going strong at 35 and is credited with being the leader on a defense that played well in recent wins over contenders Indianapolis, New England and Tennessee.
2. Texans RB Carlos Hyde vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David
Houston's offense features the league's eighth-ranked rushing attack, and that's not all because their quarterback has given them 376 yards. Even after trading for Duke Johnson in the offseason, the Texans still listened when the Chiefs called just before the season looking to trade Hyde. Houston had lost their top back, Lamar Miller, to injured reserve just a few days earlier. The move has paid off, giving the Texans offense a big, physical runner who has been able to handle most the ground game workload while Johnson has been more of a pass-catcher. In fact, it's gone so well that Hyde has the first 1,000-yard season of his six-year career, crossing that mark last Sunday with a 104-yard day, and he's also averaging a career-best 4.6 yards per carry. Of course, this week Hyde will run into the NFL's top-ranked rush defense, which is giving up just 73.3 yards on the ground and also ranks second with 3.35 yards allowed per play. That run defense starts with a stout interior line but that frees up David and Devin White to roam the field and shut down running plays before they can get started. In his eighth season, David remains a fast and instinctive defender who can make plays from sideline to sideline and who has always been adept at shooting through gaps and taking down ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage. David has a team-high 104 tackles this season, 55 of them on run plays, and he's logged 10 more tackles for loss. David's 116 career TFLs are tied for the second-most in the NFL since 2012.
3. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus
With J.J. Watt on injured reserve and Jadeveon Clowney now a Seahawk, Mercilus is the Texans' top pass-rushing threat and he has a team-high 5.5 sacks along with 13 quarterback hits. Mercilus will often line up on the strong side of the offensive formation, which means he'll likely get reps against both the Bucs' offensive tackles (and perhaps some tight ends) but there will definitely be time that he is Smith's responsibility. The Buccaneers are hoping Smith returns from the ankle and knee injuries that snapped his career-long streak of 77 straight games started last weekend, and Bruce Arians said that Smith was "close" to being cleared to play in Detroit. Smith's streak highlights his incredible durability and the Buccaneers have always had a lot of confidence in him protecting Jameis Winston's blind side against some of the very best athletes in the NFL. Mercilus doesn't always come after the passer, though; at times he'll drop into zone coverage, as he did early in last week's win over Tennessee on a play near the Texans' goal line. He proved to be in the right place at the right time when Texans safety Justin Reid hit Titans' tight end Anthony Firkser at the point of the ball's arrival, causing a deflection that Mercilus caught and ran 86 yards with to set up the game's first touchdown. Smith is big and light on his feet but he'll have a challenge against Mercilus, who usually rushes from a two-point stance and has an array of good pass-rushing moves.
4. Texans WR Will Fuller vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
Houston's depth chart lists three starting receivers – Fuller, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills – and indeed all three are on the field for the majority of the game's snaps. That means the Bucs' defense will be running a lot of nickel, with Dean coming on to play on the outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting moving into the slot. The Texans will put any of those three receivers into the slot on occasion, but Fuller will definitely get a lot of snaps on the outside in those three-receiver sets, and at times he will use his top-notch speed to go deep. He has had some huge games this year, including a 217-yard, three-touchdown outing against Atlanta in October and he already has a career-high 659 yards. Of course, Dean is the Bucs' fastest cornerback, maybe their fastest player overall, so he should be able to match deep routes with Fuller when the defense requires it. Dean has only been playing regularly since Week Nine, but he's tied for fifth in the NFL with 16 passes defense, including two more last week in the Bucs' win in Detroit. The additional problem for any cornerback facing Fuller and the other Houston receivers is that Deshaun Watson moves around very well and can extend plays, giving his receivers time to get open. It's a tough challenge for Dean and the rest of the secondary, but that young group has been markedly better of late.
The game will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast can be found on MOR-TV, locally. It will also be available on a live stream that can be accessed through the Buccaneers Official App and Yahoo Sports. See below for details.
How to Watch:
Rich Eisen, Nate Burleson, Joe Thomas, Melissa Stark
NFL Network & MOR-TV
The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
*Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
How to Listen:
*In-market fans can listen through the Bucs Official App
Gene Deckerhoff, Dave Moore, T.J. Rives
98ROCK (97.9 - Tampa)
The Boot (103.9 FM – Brooksville)
ESPN SW Florida (99.3 FM – Ft. Myers/Naples/Punta Gorda)
Citrus (95.3 FM - Homosassa)
WLKF (96.7 FM and 1430 AM – Lakeland)
WYGM (740 AM/ 96.9 FM – Orlando and Melbourne)
WSTU (1450 AM - Port St. Lucie)
ESPN Tallahassee (97.9 FM – Tallahassee)
WTMP-FM 96.1, 101.9 and WMGG-AM 1470 (Tampa)
WIXC – AM 1060 (Melbourne/Orlando)
Sirius/XM Channel 88
On the Bucs Official App*
*Access restricted to Tampa area