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Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston faces Texans team desperate for 1st win

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Tampa Bay rookie Jameis Winston will get a big test on Sunday against the Houston Texans after picking up his first NFL win last week.

This year’s top overall pick will have to deal with a defense featuring last year’s Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, and 2014 No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney. Winston is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m just like: ‘Wow, we get to play J.J. Watt,'” Winston said. “It’s amazing.”

Watt, who is focused on helping the Texans get their first win after an 0-2 start, wasn’t exactly buttered up by the flattery from the quarterback.

“That’s a smart rookie, you know? Saying the right thing,” Watt said.

But that certainly wasn’t all Winston had to say about Watt. Asked what stands out to him about the defensive end, Winston couldn’t pick just one thing.

“Everything,” he said. “There’s nothing that doesn’t jump out at you.”

Winston will work behind a line that has three new starters this season, including two rookies, and which has struggled to protect him. The problems began in the preseason, when Winston was sacked an NFL-high seven times through three games. Two weeks ago, he was sacked four times and hit on five other occasions in Tampa Bay’s season-opening loss to Tennessee. New Orleans had three sacks and four hits on Winston last week.

“We can’t get Jameis hit as much as we are right now … those will add up over the course of 16 games,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.

A big smile spread across Clowney’s face when asked about Tampa Bay’s protection issues.

“We smiling; hope we can get there and hit him, too,” he said.

The Texans expect to play Clowney more Sunday after he was in for 30 plays in the season opener and 49 last week. The outside linebacker is being brought along slowly after playing just four games as a rookie because of various injuries before having season-ending microfracture surgery.

“He’s gotten better and better every time he’s been out there,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s been working hard. He’s done some good things in both games and we’re going to continue to play him more and more.”

Some things to know about the Buccaneers-Texans game.

NEW SURFACE: Sunday will be the first game at NRG Stadium on AstroTurf after the Texans replaced the natural grass that has been used since the stadium opened in 2002 with the artificial surface this week. General manager Rick Smith said they decided to make the change because the performance of the grass this season was “not up to historical standards.” The natural grass has often been criticized by visiting coaches and Smith said the new surface will help “protect players from unnecessary risk.”

WHO’S THAT GUY: There’s a surprise name atop the NFL sacks list through two games. Tampa Bay’s Jacquies Smith has four, one more than Watt, Kansas City’s Justin Houston, New England’s Chandler Jones and Tennessee’s Derrick Morgan. He’s a little known second-year defensive end who was claimed off waivers from Buffalo early last season. He started seven of the team’s final eight games in 2014 and had 6 1-2 sacks.

HEALTH OF HOPKINS: Houston’s top receiver DeAndre Hopkins got a concussion against the Panthers and is questionable for Sunday’s game. O’Brien said he was feeling better on Thursday and that they’d know more about his availability after he went through the concussion protocol. Hopkins has 14 receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

HOMECOMING: Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans expects to play a bigger role this week. The second-year pro, who grew up in nearby Galveston, Texas, and starred in college at Texas A&M, returned last week after sitting out Week 1 with a hamstring injury. The Bucs restricted his playing time against the Saints, but he won’t be on a play count Sunday. Evans had 68 receptions for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

RUNNING BACK WOES: Houston’s running game has struggled with Arian Foster out with a groin injury. Foster has been practicing, but isn’t quite ready to play. The team has averaged 79.5 yards rushing through the first two games, which ranks 24th in the NFL. Second-year player Alfred Blue has started both games with Foster out, but Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk have also gotten carries as O’Brien looks for an answer. Polk leads the group with 19 carries for 60 yards.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press. 

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