Owners of the worst record in the NFL last year, the Houston Texans appear to have made big strides early in 2014.
The same can’t be said for the New York Giants, who are playing the same way they did during last season’s 0-6 start.
Turnovers have played a major role in the teams’ respective starts, with the 2-0 Texans tied for second in the league in turnover differential and the winless Giants last in the category heading into Sunday’s matchup at MetLife Stadium.
Judging by the first two games, Houston appears well on its way to putting last year’s 2-14 debacle behind it, matching that win total with victories over Washington and Oakland. The Texans posted the worst turnover margin in football in 2013 at minus-20, but they’re at plus-5 – just behind Carolina at plus-6.
Houston had two interceptions and recovered two fumbles in the 30-14 road win over the Raiders last week.
”That’s something that we … drive on, even in practice,” free safety Kendrick Lewis said. ”It showed up in the game. Guys going after the ball, no matter if it’s a running back breaking through, if it’s a receiver catching the ball and turning up. We’re stripping at the ball, trying to cause turnovers any way we can.”
The Texans showed other signs last week that the form that allowed them to make the playoffs in 2011 and ’12 while going 22-10 is returning. Arian Foster rushed for 138 yards and a score as Houston ran for 188 overall, leaving it eighth in the league at 151.5 yards per game.
Houston has also benefited from a resurgent defense, as its 20 points allowed represents the lowest total in the NFL. Coach Bill O’Brien, though, sees his team’s takeaways as the biggest key to its turnaround.
”(Games) come down to third-down conversions, they come down to red area percentage and then obviously, probably most importantly, they come down to turnovers,” said O’Brien, whose club has one giveaway. ”So, if you’re the team that doesn’t turn it over and the other team does turn it over, then you’ve got a heck of a shot to win and our team is doing a pretty good job of that right now.”
The Giants (0-2) aren’t, and Houston’s propensity for creating takeaways could spell more bad news for New York.
The Giants were just ahead of the Texans with a minus-15 turnover differential and easily led the league with 44 turnovers last year. Unlike Houston, New York hasn’t been able to fix the problem.
The Giants are again first with six giveaways, leaving them at minus-6 in turnover margin. They haven’t caused a turnover in their first two games for the first time since 1972.
A giveaway proved critical in last week’s 25-14 home-opening loss to Arizona, as running back Rashad Jennings fumbled late in the game without being touched deep in Cardinals territory, killing New York’s drive for a potential tying touchdown.
The Giants had four turnovers overall and although their new offense looked better in Week 2, they continued to exhibit the sloppy and undisciplined play that ruined last season. They were called for nine penalties, allowed a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and dropped five passes, including a major one by Victor Cruz a play before Ted Ginn Jr.’s returning of the punt for a score.
New York is also second-to-last in the NFL in opponents’ third-and-long conversion percentage, allowing teams to get a first down 43.8 percent of the time.
”I think when you are 0-2, you want to get a win soon,” said Eli Manning, who threw for 277 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. ”We have the Texans coming in and we have another home game, so hopefully we’ve got to get better, but we have to do it soon. We don’t have a whole lot of time to keep waiting to get better.”
New York now finds itself under intense pressure to keep the poor start from snowballing into one similar to last year’s. Key injuries aren’t helping, with starting middle linebacker Jon Beason out after aggravating a previous foot injury and cornerback Walter Thurmond III and receiver Jerrel Jernigan done for the season.
”I believe,” coach Tom Coughlin said. ”I believe. Put me up at the top. OK? Blame me for the problems. Put me at the top as far as getting this thing done and I think they can go do it.”
The Giants leads the all-time series 2-1, winning the most recent meeting 34-10 at Houston on Oct. 10, 2010.