The season opener will be here Monday night as the Houston Texans travel to face the San Diego Chargers in the final game of Week One, and there will be plenty to keep an eye out for.
Take for instance the Chargers having a new head coach in Mike McCoy, who is replacing Norv Turner. That’s going to be interesting to say the least. As for the players on the field, here are five players to keep an eye on come the Monday night opener at 10:15 p.m. EST on ESPN.
1. Arian Foster, running back, Houston
Foster is one of the top running backs in all of football when healthy, but playing more than likely without a full workload in the opener in San Diego, what can we expect from the former All-Pro player?
Foster didn’t play a single snap this preseason due to back and ankle injuries, as the Texans medical staff pretty much kept Foster on the sidelines … for good reason. No need on getting re-injured in games that don’t count, right?
In facing the Chargers, last season they allowed 96.4 rushing yards per game (6th in the NFL) so it may not be “easy” to run against this team even though they have a new system in place.
Last year, Foster raced his way to 1,424 yards and 15 touchdowns on 351 carries. The last time Foster and the Texans faced the Chargers was Nov. 7, 2010 in a 29-23 losing effort. In that game he had 27 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
I don’t see Foster getting 300-plus carries in ’13 if reserve running back Ben Tate stays healthy, but if Foster himself can stay healthy there is no reason he still can’t be a Top 5 running back in the NFL this season.
With no preseason action and little practice time under his belt it was be interesting to see how Foster plays in Week 1.
2. Brian Cushing, inside linebacker, Houston
The former Pro Bowl selection, Cushing is also coming off an injury, as he is recovered from a torn ACL that occurred in Week 5 last season. Cushing told the Houston media Tuesday he fells “stronger mentally and physically” after recovering from the ACL injury.
In just five starts last season (he was injured on Oct. 10 against the New York Jets) he finished with 30 combined tackles, one forced fumble and one interception. For his career, he has 10.5 sacks and 354 combined tackles, which was good enough to garner his a new six-year contract extension on Tuesday.
For the Texans to not only win a third straight AFC South championship, but to go beyond the divisional round of the playoffs Cushing’s play will be key, and a good start on Monday night will be key way to start the ’13 season.
Again, how will he hold up from the ACL recovery, that is something to watch this first game of the season.
3. Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego
It isn’t like Rivers is a casualty under center for the Chargers, but is he the same QB from ’08-’11 that passed for over 4,000 yards per season? Rivers is in a new system with Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator, so the question is will he be able to find the formula that can make him the QB he was just a few seasons ago? Maybe, Whisenhunt is a good coach, but Rivers will need help from his team as well.
Rivers doesn’t have the best weapons to throw to or the best offensive line in front of him, that was proven last season as he threw for his third lowest total in passing yardage since he became the Chargers’ starter in ’06. In 16 starts he threw for 3,606 yards with 26 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 13 fumbles.
A lot of that can go on Rivers, but the Chargers just weren’t that great of a team last season … shown by the 49 times he was sacked.
The key for Rivers’ success in this game is if his offensive line play has improved in keeping him upright and the fact establishing a running game will help overcome past passing woes as well.
4. Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego
This preseason Mathews carried the ball 26 times for 121 yards and one TD. His average rush was 4.7 yards per carry, but a draw back with the fourth year running back is he’s never stayed healthy enough to play a full season.
In ’12 he played in 12 games, carrying the ball 184 times for 707 yards and a single touchdown. His best season was ’11 where he had 1,091 yards and six TDs in 14 starts.
If healthy, Mathews has the potential to be a to be a very productive runner in the NFL, but he’s missed games every season of his career. This could be one of those “make-or-break” years for Mathews and he’ll have to start that year against a tough Texans defense.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver, Houston
If Hopkins can overcome his concussion suffered in the preseason, the first-round draft choice from Clemson could have a great rookie season playing opposite of veteran Andre Johnson.
How can’t any Texan fan not be excited to see what Hopkins has to offer. He’s already the No. 2 wide receiver on the team without playing a single regular season snap, so I’m interested in seeing his progression not only week-to-week, but from quarter-to-quarter on MNF against the Chargers.
He’ll probably either be matched up against five-year veteran Derek Cox or three-year player Shareece Wright as they are listed as the top cornerbacks on the Chargers’ depth chart.
Hopkins should be entertaining to watch, no doubt about that.