Texans' Final Games Will Define Their Season, Starting with Rivalry Matchup

Houston Texans v New York Jets
Houston Texans v New York Jets / Kathryn Riley/GettyImages

The outcome of Sunday's rivalry matchup will have long-term effects on DeMeco Ryans' squad. The Houston Texans are one spot shy of playoff contention heading into the final games of the campaign. Consecutive losses to conference opponents will derail the Houston Texan's season. The Tennessee Titans are noteworthy opponents with momentum to rely on.

How can the Texans defeat their division rivals to keep their season alive?

Houston Texans defense must protect the endzone

Protecting the endzone is the key to winning football games. If offenses cannot score, opponents will not achieve victory. Matt Burke's unit demonstrated this philosophy multiple times this season. His group earned their highest defensive (75.2) grade in Week 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They've struggled to repeat their efforts in the last few games. C.J. Stroud's last-minute touchdown saved Houston's defense in Week 13. It was their worst performance (41.9), but Houston still won.

Rookie magic could not save DeMeco Ryans' team after a slow start. Houston's defense held Nathaniel Hackett's offense to zero points until halftime. Zach Wilson returned from the locker room determined to put points on the board. He threw two touchdown passes and torched Houston's secondary.

Consecutive poor outings taught the Texans a lesson. Shutouts are noteworthy, but the offense is responsible for scoring points. Last-minute touchdown passes are excellent highlights, but stout defensive performances limit last-minute scares. Winning in the NFL requires a balance, but the Texans are more unbalanced than ever. Injuries on offense will force X-Factors to miss games. Matt Burke's unit must carry the extra load to extend the season.

Bobby Slowik needs someone to rise to the occasion

Sunday's loss came with a fair share of collateral damage. First, Nico Collins left the game with a calf injury in the opening minutes. His absence forced C.J. Stroud to find new targets. Dalton Schultz (hamstring) and Tank Dell (fibula) were missing in action - leaving the rookie limited options. Stroud endured a rough afternoon. He was sacked four times and finished with his lowest passing total (91).

A hit from Quinnen Williams knocked Houston's quarterback out of the game in the fourth quarter. He entered the league's concussion protocol this week. His status for this week is uncertain. Davis Mills finished the game but struggled to produce. He completed one of five passes for four yards. If Stroud cannot play Sunday, the Texans will consider naming Mills the starter. Case Keenum is the third-string quarterback but has more experience. Bobby Slowik is more confident with Mills under center. Hopefully, that will not cloud his judgment if the third-rounder jeopardizes a win on Sunday.

The Houston Texans are between a rock and a hard place. They need a stout defensive performance while their X-Factors on offense nurse back to health. An AFC South rivalry will raise the odds on Sunday afternoon. A loss will make the road to the post-season extremely difficult. We expect the Texans to pull off a necessary victory.

All statistics courtesy of pff.com.