Texans' formula: Win turnover battle, protect Deshaun Watson

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HOUSTON -- Every week in a team meeting, Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien emphasizes the importance of winning the turnover battle.

The message, rookie safety Justin Reid says, is "our defense has to create turnovers and our offense needs to keep the ball. The team that usually wins the turnover battle has a much higher probability of winning the game."

O'Brien said: "I don't think there's a more important stat in pro football. I really don't. When it comes to taking care of the ball and being able to take the ball away, I think if you look at our time here in the five years, I think when we've won that battle, we've won the majority of our games."

The offense has been consistent at times, and the trade for receiver Demaryius Thomas to replace Will Fuller V, who tore the ACL in his right knee, means the Texans still have a playmaker opposite No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins. However, Houston will try to stick to the formula that has been working: A takeaway by the defense giving the offense a short field and an easier opportunity to score.

Because of the injuries Watson has been playing through to his ribs and lung, the quarterback has had to make adjustments in terms of how much he is running the ball and the hits he is taking outside the pocket. The short fields the offense has been playing with have helped limit his exposure.

Houston is tied for 10th in the NFL with a plus-3 turnover differential, but in its past two wins (against the Dolphins and Jaguars), the Texans had four takeaways and no turnovers. Those are the only two games this season in which Deshaun Watson has not thrown an interception.

Houston was also headed to overtime in Week 6 against the Bills before Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph intercepted Nathan Peterman's pass and returned it for the game-winning touchdown. On the following drive, Peterman threw another interception to seal Houston's victory.

"We obviously did not play great against Buffalo offensively," O'Brien said. "The defense took the ball away and we won the game. Against Jacksonville, we played a little bit better offensively, defense took the ball away, got us the ball in a short field, we scored some points. Same thing happened [against the Dolphins].

"I think the turnover-takeaway deal is something that if our guys can really buy in and continue to understand how important that is, that's a big deal."

Against the Jaguars, Houston scored 10 of its 20 points off takeaways. Against Miami, the Texans also scored two plays after Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler threw an interception.

Though the offense exploded for 42 points and Watson threw five touchdown passes against Miami, he had that success in part because he did not turn the ball over. In his first six games this season Watson had eight turnovers, but he has taken care of the ball the past two weeks.

"For us, it's just, 'Don't mess it up,'" Watson said. "Kind of trickle the ball down the field, get points when we can and get a lead."

O'Brien's message, Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu said, is a focus on "complementary football."

"I think a lot of teams, especially defenses over the years, think about the Ravens and Seattle, they created a lot of turnovers and their offense always worked with a short field, and it always put them in the playoffs and gave them a chance to win it all," Mathieu said.

And after the defense gets a takeaway, he joked that he tells Watson, "Just put it in. It's on you now."

But even though Reid takes pride in giving the offense a short field to work with, there's something he likes even more.

"It's a great feeling to do it," Reid said. "[It's] an even better feeling if we can score ourselves on defense."