Breaking down how the Chargers (1-2) and the Houston Texans (0-2-1) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. PDT on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. The game will be shown on CBS and streamed on Paramount+ and NFL+.
When Chargers have the ball: For an offense that features Pro Bowl players and fantasy favorites aplenty, a rookie sixth-round draft pick will be one of the primary focuses Sunday. Jamaree Salyer is set to make his first NFL start, at left tackle in place of the injured Rashawn Slater. Salyer will be responsible for helping protect Justin Herbert and his fractured rib cartilage as well as providing some much-needed space for the running backs. The Chargers have the league's worst rushing attack, averaging 59 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry. Through three weeks, they have zero touchdowns on the ground. The encouraging news is Houston is the NFL's worst team at stopping the run, surrendering an average of 202 yards. Last week, the Texans gave up 157 to a Chicago Bears running back named Khalil Herbert, which has to be some sort of good karma for a Chargers team that includes Khalil Mack and Justin Herbert, right? Coach Brandon Staley cited the needs for "more physicality" and "rhythm" when talking about improvement along the offensive line. "I feel like we just haven't established that chemistry up front yet," he said. "That's a big part of what's preventing us from being as good as we can be."
When Texans have the ball: As much as the offense struggled to score just one touchdown last week against Jacksonville, the Chargers' defense wilted in the second half as the Jaguars pulled away for a 38-10 victory. That performance had little to do with Herbert's sore ribs, beyond the fact the defense had to play more snaps as the offense was failing to sustain enough drives. "There were a lot of quick turnarounds out there," defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. "Once we got into the second half, the touchdowns came, and I think that was probably the accumulation of the reps we got in the first half." The Chargers looked overmatched at times against Trevor Lawrence, the NFL's No. 1 overall pick in 2021. On Sunday, they'll face a quarterback taken 66 picks after Lawrence in Davis Mills. In 16 games, Mills has only two victories, but one of those came against the Chargers last season. Mills finished 21 of 27 for 254 yards and two touchdowns, his 130.6 rating still the second best of his career. "He's a quality player," Staley said. "I felt that way last year. He played very well against us ... you can see that he's giving them a chance every Sunday."
When they kick: The Chargers' Dustin Hopkins has had a relatively routine, quiet start to the season, hitting three of four field-goal attempts and all seven of his extra points. Former UCLA Bruin Ka'imi Fairbairn is in his seventh season with Houston. He's perfect to open the year: seven of seven on field goals and four of four on extra points.
Jeff Miller's prediction: After the Chargers lost by four touchdowns at home to Jacksonville, the idea of them being favorites on the road against any NFL team seemed a little odd. It still does, frankly. There isn't much doubt which of these teams is more talented, but can the Chargers avoid playing down to the level of their opponents? Well ...
TEXANS 23, CHARGERS 17
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.