In less than 48 hours, The Houston Texans match up against the Chargers for the second piece of a Monday Night Football double header. The Texans are no stranger to Monday Night Football, but coming off the team’s best year, there are a number of things to look for in the Texans’ season opener that will help determine the Texans’ role as a contender this season.
1. The pressure of a Monday Night Football game is already intense. Add to that the pressure of being the first Monday night in the entire regular season and the pressure becomes immeasurable. The Texans will need to show that they are capable of performing on the primetime stage. Houston looked less-than-comfortable in their 2012 primetime games – most notably a big loss to Green Bay in week 6 and the forgettable performance in New England in week 13. In order to maintain “contender” status, the Texans will need to show that they can play – and win – on any stage, against any team, at any given time. Last year left much to be desired, so Monday night’s matchup will allow the Texans to establish their primetime reputation early.
2. Other than Matt Schaub, the Texans’ secondary remains the wildcard for the team. With the loss of S Glover Quin to the Lions, Houston’s secondary took a blow. That blow was made less severe – at least in theory – with the acquisition of future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. However, immediately after inking his deal with the Texans, the veteran Reed snuck off to undergo arthroscopic hip surgery. Reed has only practiced with the team in any official capacity in the last ten days. Reed has been officially removed from the PUP list, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak lists him as a “gametime decision” for Monday night. There is no doubt that a healthy Reed would have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the Texans’ defense. Without him, the entire defense is only as strong as the secondary which has a tendency to be inconsistent. If d-backs Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson have stellar performances on Monday, it could set the tone for the strength of Houston’s defense –with or without Reed.
3. The return of Brian Cushing has been the buzz in Houston throughout training camp and the preseason. A freak accident in the Jets matchup in 2012 left Cushing with a torn ACL and left Houston without one of its brightest defensive stars. With Cushing healthy, and with a new $55 million contract, all eyes will be on Cushing on Monday. His ability to find holes and stuff the rush should only enhance the effectiveness of the defense. In order to have the greatest impact on Monday, it will be important for Cushing to reacquaint himself with the pace of a regular season game and not allow the excitement of his return to disrupt his flow.
4. There are few that would disagree that RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate provide the most formidable 1 – 2 punch amongst RBs in the NFL. Tate has played well throughout the preseason in the absence of Foster who sat out the entire preseason on the PUP due to back and calf injuries. With Foster back for Monday night, and with Tate to back him up, it will be important to watch how Kubiak utilizes this two man wrecking crew. The Texans like to rush. With Tate and Foster, what team wouldn’t? But if Kubiak employs an airtight strategy on Monday, the Chargers defense will have a difficult time containing the Texans’ rush and hopefully the score.