HOUSTON -- With 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller out with a broken collarbone, through two games opposing teams have been able to focus even more and double-team Houston Texans star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
"I think everyone in the league knows we're going to throw the ball to Hopkins," coach Bill O'Brien said.
After Texans legend Andre Johnson left after the 2014 season, Hopkins became Houston's No. 1 receiver, and he proved that the next season, catching 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Texans rewarded him for that success last month, signing him to a five-year, $81 million extension, with $49 million guaranteed.
Through two games, Hopkins has gotten a lot of attention from the opposing teams. In the Texans' Week 2 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, through three quarters, Hopkins had only seven targets and just three catches for 36 yards -- most coming from a 25-yard completion in the second quarter. But with the game on the line, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tried to find Hopkins, and he finished with seven catches for 73 yards.
"I knew he was going to keep coming to me," Hopkins said. "I know I'm a playmaker on this team, I know they're going to call my number.
"[I'm] just trying to get open, because I know there are probably going to be at least four eyes on me, more than likely, so just trusting my quarterback to get me the ball, and trying to get open the best I can."
Teams have also started to cover him differently because of his physical style of play and ability to make a game-changing catch. So far this season opposing cornerbacks have had five defensive pass interference penalties called, including one on the Texans' game-sealing series in Week 2, when Watson led the Texans on a 13-play, 66-yard drive for a field goal to put Houston up 13-9 and eat up 6:24 of clock.
"[Defensive backs] know sometimes they'd rather take a penalty than a touchdown or a big play, which is smart," Hopkins said. "If I was playing DB and I knew I could give up a touchdown ... in the league, penalties, the spot of the foul is at the spot of the foul, it's not beyond, so sometimes it's smart for DBs to take the penalty instead of a bigger play.
"Penalties are just as big as first-down catches, so extend the play, do my job as much as I can help."
The Texans will face a tougher test in Week 3 against the New England Patriots, but Hopkins said his chemistry and relationship with Watson has continued to get better, and he is hopeful that means they can connect on the field even more.
"It's getting better and better everyday," Hopkins said. "At practice, I've seen the difference from when we first started throwing together to yesterday. We're growing, we're getting to know each other, and it's getting better."