The time since the NFL Draft feels like it’s flown by, and with only 68 days until the regular season kicks off, there’s no better time than right now to start breaking down the Texans’ weekly match ups as the offseason winds down.
If there’s one thing the NFL has been really good at lately, it’s making the opening week of football really exciting for everyone. There’s a lot of good match ups around the league to start the season, but for the Texans, they find themselves on the road early against the San Diego Chargers – a team that has expanded in the draft, but still faces some learning curbs with a new head coach taking over.
The Chargers do have a distinct advantage starting the season at home though, and the Texans definitely shouldn’t feel like this game is an “easy” start to the season, even though San Diego won only three games at Qualcomm last year.
Instead, this will be a pretty unfamiliar team for Houston. The two haven’t met since 2010, a year after the Chargers lost LaDainian Tomlinson to free agency, and a lot has changed since then. So as the Texans head towards their Monday Night Football opener, here’s what to look for on September 9.
The New Rookies
The Chargers have done a good job of keeping Manti Te’o away from the media during practices, press conferences, and anything else that involves journalists. But two weeks out from this game, don’t be surprised to hear a buttload of stuff about how Te’o will compare to the Texans’ defense, and vise versa.
Houston has one of the best running games in the league, and even though the Texans themselves will be looking to feed DeAndre Hopkins when they can, Te’o’s tough run stuffing ability he’s known for will be on display straight away.
The Chargers haven’t said much about whether Te’o will be a starter come Week 1, but everyone else seems to think it’s a forgone conclusion. Right next to Hopkins, Te’o has been one of the brightest rookies to emerge from the draft during mini camps and practices, and even if he isn’t used as an every down type linebacker, he’s going to be brought in when the Texans look to run it.
Therefore, the mathematics here is simple for Gary Kubiak: try and keep it in the air. Right next to Te’o’s impressive performances as of late, stands DeAndre Hopkins showing off. Kubiak has made a no nonsense call about when Hopkins will start with the team, saying he expects it from “the get-go”. That makes two big rookies that will be starting on the primetime stage.
When a team has a below .500 record to end the season, most people tend to forget or lose interest about defensive stats, and instead focus on what is wrong with the team. So, you may not know it, but the Chargers ranked ninth in overall defense last year – just two spots below the Texans at seventh.
Last time they met the two produced a very offensive display, putting a total of 52 points on the board in the Texans 23-29 loss. Arian Foster did have a big day on the ground though, rushing for 127-yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Still, this time around all the hype surrounding Monday Night Football could result in a real defensive slog.
Again one of the biggest things to look at here on defense is who both teams have added this offseason. Te’o is one plus for the Chargers, but so is cornerback Derek Cox, a guy who’s had a combined 12 interceptions over four seasons, and a quiet 55 tackles to his name in 2012.
On the other side, don’t ask me if Ed Reed will be starting the season for the Texans, but Wade Phillips has liked what he’s seen from draftee D.J. Swearinger in practices, and the return of Brian Cushing is always a plus. Cushing may not be at his 100 per cent best straight away, but a preseason and some solid work in practice goes a long way to help stop another one of the Chargers’ new additions in Danny Woodhead on the ground.
Hit Rivers Hard, and Often
It feels like every season we say this, but I think it’s true this time: this is definitely Philip Rivers’ last shot at the show.
Rivers has a new offensive coordinator in Ken Whisenhunt, so it’s likely the Chargers’ playbook will be a little different, and knowing Whisenhunt, things could be a little stricter come training camp time. To me Rivers needs to put in the kind of work that Peyton Manning puts into practices to really make this season work, but even so, his 49-sacks last season will need to be reversed quickly.
Not all of Rivers’ sack tally can be pinned on him, because the offensive line has a lot to take the blame too. What the Texans need to do though, is chase Rivers down early and force him to throw into double coverage, something that has become a trait of his in the past couple of seasons, and try and throw his already shoddy footwork off balance nice and early.
Rivers is the kind of quarterback that can pile on a ton of yards in a game though, and throw two or three picks at the same time. Those interceptions always mean the difference, especially if they’re converted into points, even if the Chargers do have a new wide receiver (and a good one at that) to count on in Keenan Allen.
The Chargers still seem to be missing a real playmaker at wide receiver heading into the season, leaving Malcolm Floyd as Rivers’ likely go to man alongside Danario Alexander who really came on towards the middle of last season. That sets up a good match up for the Texans’ secondary, and if you can’t force a bad throw from Rivers, heading in for a sack normally follows.
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