When Chargers have the ball: They have the AFC’s starting Pro Bowl quarterback and a Pro Bowl wide receiver, the Chargers a top-five passing team for most of this season. “We’ve got a certain makeup of this roster,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, “where it’s so tempting to be a pass-first offense … and sometimes we are.” But the Chargers also have rushed for 344 yards over their last two games, including a season-high 192 against Kansas City in Week 15. Even with starting running back Austin Ekeler and Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley on the COVID-19 reserve list heading into the weekend, the Chargers could look to muscle up again and be a bit of a run-first offense against a Houston team that ranks last in the league in rushing defense. Justin Jackson is coming off his best game of the season and is in line to be featured Sunday. Jackson has shown plenty of ability during his time with the Chargers but has struggled to remain healthy. This is a game the Chargers would love to grab early and not let go, smothering the Texans in the process. A quick start by the offense is one way to achieve that goal.
When Texans have the ball: Back in September, this matchup looked to be quarterback Tyrod Taylor against his most recent former team. But that changed in Week 13 when Taylor was benched in favor of Davis Mills. Taylor opened last season as the Chargers’ starting quarterback before he was sidelined in Week 2 by a pregame medical mishap that resulted in him suffering a punctured lung. Justin Herbert started that afternoon against Kansas City — and every Chargers game since. Taylor signed with Houston in the offseason and became the starter when Deshaun Watson’s off-field issues prevented the Texans from playing him. When he was healthy, Taylor started six games before being replaced by Mills. Regardless of who has played quarterback, the results haven’t been good. The only team that has scored fewer points than Houston is Jacksonville, which has won only twice and already fired its coach. The Texans are 1-7 in Mills’ starts, averaging 13 points per game. They are last in the league in running the ball and have only one wide receiver (Brandin Cooks, who began the weekend on the COVID list) with more than 25 receptions.
When they kick: Dustin Hopkins is 12 of 13 on field goals and 23 of 25 on extra points in his eight games with the Chargers. His lone missed field goal was a 52-yarder at Denver. Ka’imi Fairbairn, who played at UCLA, has been Houston’s kicker since 2017 and had a career-long 61-yard field goal this season. But he too was placed on the COVID list recently. If Fairbairn is out, Dominik Eberle likely will come up from the practice squad to replace him.
Jeff Miller’s prediction: The Chargers have been favored by at least 10 points from the start of the week. Even with all the COVID uncertainty surrounding both teams, that hardly seems like enough. Sorry, Houston, but it’s just too difficult to envision this game being that close.
CHARGERS 30, TEXANS 9
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.