Lions-Texans Final Thoughts: The Thanksgiving Day game is always special; Texans receivers to watch, Random Thoughts on what the Lions should do and my pick:
Detroit Lions football on Thanksgiving Day is a sparkling jewel on the sports calendar, even if it is stripped of the frills that have made it almost as much an entertainment spectacle as a sports event.
The traditional game founded by the Lions in 1934 when the franchise was relocated from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Detroit survives and thrives, regardless of circumstances.
This year's game between the Lions and Houston Texans at Ford Field has elements of both.
The game itself survives the COVID-19 pandemic while it thrives on its own history. It is a marquee event on the NFL schedule even in a matchup of opposing teams having disappointing seasons.
From players like long snapper Don Muhlbach, who'll play in his 17th Thanksgiving Day game, to cornerback Justin Coleman, who'll play in his second, it's special to have the football stage to yourself from the 12:30 p.m. kickoff to the final play.
"It's always an honor to get the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving," Coleman said this week. "We have to appreciate the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving.
"We've got to put our best foot forward and give our best out there."
Texans to watch: The Texans don't have a star receiver like they did before DeAndre Hopkins was traded away in the offseason.
They do have a solid duo in Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller. They can put pressure on the secondary. Cooks and Fuller both have 47 catches, and they provide speed that has to be accounted for.
"They can really hurt you going vertical," said head coach Matt Patricia. "Sometimes you have to change up things you're doing in order to make sure those guys don't get behind you – because they can very quickly."
Four things, among the many, the Lions should do today:
Contain Deshaun Watson: The Lions should try to do to the Texans' QB what they did to Kyler Murray in their win over the Cardinals in Week 3. The defense kept Murray in the pocket and didn't let him out. Murray ran only five times for 29 yards and a TD, and throwing from the pocket he had three interceptions to go with two TD passes.
It will be hard to get the same success against Watson because of the size difference. Watson is listed at 6-2 (he seems taller) compared to 5-10 (he seems shorter) for Murray.
Dominate the run game: It seems hard to say after last week's game when the Panthers held the Lions to 40 yards rushing and no rushing first downs, but the Lions are facing an opponent that ranks 31st in rushing offense and 32nd in rushing defense.
Protect the quarterback: The offensive line has done that pretty well all season, but last week was an exception. Matthew Stafford was sacked five times – all in the second half, on 27 drop backs. The Texans have 21 sacks, an average of 2.1 per game, led by J.J. Watt with four.
The Lions should – and must – win this matchup of units.
Adjust: Teams have taken control of the game on the Lions and never given it up. The Washington game two weeks ago was an example. The Lions had a 24-3 lead midway through the third quarter when Washington flipped the script and rallied to tie the game twice, at 24-24 and 27-27 before the Lions won on Stafford's magic to get Matt Prater in position to kick a 59-yard field goal to win the game.
And last week, the Lions had no answer when Carolina extended a 7-0 lead at halftime to the ultimate final margin of 20-0.
Prediction: The Texans are favored in this game, and it's not because of the quality of teams they have beaten – Jacksonville (1-9) twice, and New England (4-6) last week. Apparently, the perception is that the Lions are a soft touch at home in the game they founded. Time to change the perception.
Pick: Lions 24, Texans 20.