Giants clash with Texans in matchup of 0-2 teams
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The return from injury of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and addition of prize rookie running back Saquon Barkley provided plenty of optimism for the New York Giants entering the season.
A similar mindset was held by the Houston Texans, who had lofty expectations of their own with second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson and standout defensive end J.J. Watt back to full health.
Yet when the Giants conclude a two-game Texas road trip with a visit to Houston on Sunday, the biggest common denominator among the teams will be the desperation of avoiding a dispiriting 3-0 start to the season.
With the memory of last season's 3-13 debacle fresh in their collective minds, New York players are trying not to overreact to the team's fifth 0-2 start in the past six years.
"Everybody's learning, every week we're going to learn and get better and make improvements," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said in the wake of a lackluster 20-13 loss in Dallas. "That's what we have to do. When you have a new offense, new players, new guys coming in, there is a learning curve to it, so we've just got to keep grinding and keep preparing and don't get down.
"Have the desire to get better -- if we all want that, we all have that, and we've got to make the improvements that the coaches are giving us, and that will give us a better opportunity to win games."
The Texans were forced to play their opening two games on the road, following up a 27-20 loss at New England with a narrow 20-17 defeat at the Tennessee Titans last week.
Watson, whose rookie season came to an end after seven games due to a torn ACL, labored through a rough outing in Week 1, completing 50 percent of his passes for 176 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
However, the 2017 first-round draft pick threw for 310 yards and a pair of scoring strikes against the Titans, flashing some of the big-play ability that helped Houston average 40.5 points during a four-game stretch before his season-ending injury in 2017.
"Every week is a new test, always focused on improvement," said Watson. "We can't compare ourselves to last year. We're really close to being where we want to be offensively."
The Giants can't say the same about their offense after managing only 255 yards against Dallas. Barkley, taken No. 2 overall in this year's draft, was limited to 28 yards on 11 carries after eclipsing 100 yards in his NFL debut against Jacksonville.
Barkley did, however, amass 14 receptions for 80 yards against Dallas and certainly has the full attention of Houston's defense.
"He's a very good player," said Watt. "Obviously, he had an incredible college career and some of things he's been able to do. He can break it at any time.
"He's very tough to bring down on the first tackle. I think you'll notice that rarely does he get taken down by the first guy to hit him, which is impressive. So, we know he has big-play capabilities, just like Odell does on the outside. They have weapons."
Beckham's 2017 season lasted only four games after he suffered a fractured ankle. He made a triumphant return in Week 1 with 11 receptions for 111 yards, but was muted by the Cowboys and held to four catches for 51 yards.
Both teams have concerns about their respective defenses. New York must contend not only with wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, who each had a touchdown and went over 100 yards last week, but also a running game fueled by Lamar Miller and dual-threat Watson.
"Certainly they're a good rushing team," said Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. "Any time you have a quarterback that can attack the perimeter like they have, that puts a little bit more pressure on the rest of the run game, and they've got a very good runner. They actually have a couple good runners, and those guys do a good job of running it. There's no doubt that's going to be a challenge for us to stop their run."
Houston is trying to focus on getting its pass rush attack, especially after Manning was sacked six times by the Cowboys. Jadeveon Clowney could return after sitting out last week's loss and Watt said he's "starting to play the way I want to play" after appearing in only eight games the past two seasons.
"We know he's probably going to hold the ball long enough," Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus said of Manning. "We've got to get pressure on him. Even if we don't get there, we have to get him to feel uncomfortable in that pocket."
Updated September 20, 2018