- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Three things to watch Thursday in the Texans' game at Detroit:
Covering Megatron: Calvin Johnson averages 16.2 yards per catch and is as threatening as anyone in the NFL. Typically, the Texans would feel good about matching up with a player such as Johnson, because cornerback Johnathan Joseph tracks a team’s top receiver all over the field. But Joseph is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury. He played through a groin injury earlier in the season but had a couple of poor performances. If he plays with this injury, how will he fare? If he’s a scratch, Alan Ball will start in his place, but the Texans won’t put just one defender on Johnson. A week after a terrible coverage game against Jacksonville, corners Kareem Jackson, Ball and Brice McCain and safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quin will have to collectively hold down Johnson and the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense.
Riley Reiff: The Lions’ first-round draft pick likely will start at left tackle in place of stalwart Jeff Backus, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will surely scheme and move people around to challenge and attack Reiff. The best way to do that in the base defense is to get end J.J. Watt going against Reiff. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate’s effort hasn’t changed, but he has been limited to two sacks in his past four games. Weakside linebacker Connor Barwin also can be expected to get chances to rush against Reiff. Odds are the rookie blocker will get help from tight ends and running backs chipping and trying to help slow pursuit of Matthew Stafford.
Special teams: Rookie returner Keshawn Martin made some big plays last week against the Jaguars, with a 71-yard punt return and a 54-yard kickoff return. The Texans have been better overall on special teams since their Oct. 28 bye, when they emphasized getting things cleaned up. Detroit has had some miserable special-teams performances this season, and the Lions are 28th in defending punt returns. Houston should be able to ensure the Lions have to drive a long field, as Detroit is the NFL’s worst team in the league on kickoff returns. And the Texans could get some good starting field position as the Lions have the worst punting average in the NFL.