The battle between two 1-2 teams might not be very exciting for the majority of the league outside of fantasy football geeks, but the game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders may be a huge determining factor for the future of the Texans franchise. Kubiak and Co. will need this win to get back to .500 and have a chance of putting a winning season together. Here are the five matchups that are most important for that to happen:
1. Darren McFadden vs. Bernard Pollard - You knew McFadden was goingto be first on this list. We've given career days so far to both Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson, mostly because of our inability to tackle and position correctly in the secondary. Kubiak has given Pollard first team reps all week long, and it looks like he will be getting the start over John Busing and Domanique Barber. Pollard is known for his sub-standard coverage skills but his exceptional run support. Hopefully he can keep McFadden's 3.9 yards per carry average at its current low level.
2. Michael Huff vs. Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter - You might have expect to see Nnamdi Asomugha's name here, but Scrabble hasn't been himself this season. He has allowed a TD to each of the No. 1 receivers he's faced this year--Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Marshall. Huff, however, has finally started to show why he was picked 7th overall by picking off 3 passes so far. Considering the Texans' inability to run the ball so far, it is imperative that the deep ball stays a viable option for this offense to succeed.
3. Brian Cushing vs. Zach Miller - Miller may play for one of the worst offenses in the league, but he is one of the most talented TEs in the game. JaMarcus Russell is terrible at throwing outside of the hash marks but is decent at throwing down the seam, which would explain why Miller was the Raiders' leading receiver last season. Miller is very good at breaking off routes and finding an empty spot for his quarterback, which scares me given Cushing's deficiencies in coverage thus far. If Bush continues to strive for regular pressure, Russell will look Miller's way often on Sunday.
4. Mario Williams vs. Mario Henderson - Henderson won the Battle of the Marios last year by keeping Williams without a sack in Oakland's Week 16 win over the Texans. Williams has only one sack this year, although he has produced the most pressure of anyone on the defensive line. A breakout game by #90 would go a long way to helping compensate for the struggling secondary.
5. Eric Winston vs. Greg Ellis - Most people think of Richard Seymour as the best defensive lineman for the Raiders because of his recent high profile trade and his 6 tackles and 2 sacks against the Chargers' beleaguered offensive line. Since then, though, Ellis has far outshined Seymour, with 7 tackles and 2 sacks in the last two games, not to mention that his game against San Diego wasn't that shabby either (1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 3 tackles). Winston is a terrific run blocker but has been beaten by better pass rushing LDEs recently.
The key to this game, in my opinion, will be to build an early lead. JaMarcus Russell has a 41% completion percentage this season, so needless to say, the Raiders aren't designed to surmount a large deficit. If the Texans allow big plays like they have been this season, the Raiders are more than capable of running the ball and controling the clock. I predict a win for the Texans this week, 27-17.