Each NFL game there are certain match ups that make or break a team that week. Obviously football is the ultimate team sport in that all 11 men must play well on either side of the ball, but NFL coaches create their game plans to specifically avoid or exploit certain players they have identified on the opposing team. This year I will attempt to identify the five most important match ups between the Texans and their opponents each week, whether they be on the offense, the defense, special teams or even the coaching staff.
The Jets bring an interesting match up for the Texans to start the season. Last year they were one fourth quarter play away from winning the AFC East, although most people don't remember that because of their late season collapse from the promising 8-3 record they held 12 weeks into the season. Brett Favre and the offense get blamed for that fall from grace, but the defense was to blame as well as one time defensive MVP candidate Kris Jenkins fell off the radar.
Gone is Eric Mangini, who was replaced by former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Ryan not only brought the blue print from Baltimore for their defense, but also WLB Bart Scott and SS Jim Leonard. The Jets felt confident enough in their team to trade away several picks to draft QB of the future Mark Sanchez and goal line specialist Shonn Greene. Finding five match ups was easy this week, limiting them to just five though was difficult.
1. Eric Winston vs. Vernon Gholston - DE Shaun Ellis and SLB Calvin Pace will both be serving suspensions this week and therefore 2007 first round pick Vernon Gholston will start at the strong side. Vernon Gholston disappointed last year and continued to have problems throughout the preseason namely with shedding blocks. Many believe that Kyle Shanahan will call plays early and often to run the ball right at Gholston behind mauling RT Eric Winston. Hopefully this provides a match up so easy that a caveman could do it.
2. Leon Washington vs. Zac Diles - In week 3 of the preseason against the Vikings, the Texans run defense looked good for most of the game, with the exception of a few plays. The problem though was that those few plays were long TD's for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Leon Washington may not be a thumping short yardage back, but if he gets loose in the open field he is a home run hitter. With the Jets starting a rookie QB and as electric as Washington was in the preseason (6.3 ypc), I expect Brian Schottenheimer to try and find ways to set him loose either on edge rushing plays or screens. This match up scares me more than any other this week.
3. Frank Bush vs. Mark Sanchez - No one is giving Matthew Stafford a snowball's chance because he is a rookie starting his first game on the road, but I have heard the same for Mark Sanchez who has the exact same circumstance. Frank Bush wanted to be more aggressive this year and he gets a golden opportunity to show that so start things off. I almost used Mario Williams instead of Bush, but I think Sanchez will see Connor Barwin, Antonio Smith, Amobi Okoye and his old pal Brian Cushing as well. At least I hope so.
4. Darrelle Revis vs. Andre Johnson - The Jets contend that Revis is one of the best and most underrated CB's in the league. He'll have his chance to prove that this week against the reigning receptions and receiving yards champion from 2008, Andre Johnson. With Kevin Walter likely out due to a hamstring injury, Revis will probably stay locked up with Johnson throughout the entire game. If Steve Slaton can have any success running the ball though, Revis will be on an island with no double coverage to help against Andre 3000. This one will be an interesting one to watch all game.
5. Kris Jenkins vs. Chris Myers - Myers had problems with bigger athletic DT's last season, which led to a lot scrambling outside of the pocket by Matt Schaub. Jenkins was slowed by injury toward the end of last season, but will be fresh for Sunday. Schaub is not in the best state to scramble given that his ankle is still healing, so it is imperative that Myers slows down Jenkins. It will also be crucial to get a good push against the NT who had 50 tackles last year.
Update: Eric Winston recorded a new video blog yesterday breaking down the upcoming game against the Jets. He cited the loss of Shaun Ellis and Calvin Pace as well, and asked the fans at Reliant to get the place rocking. For all of you going to the game, please oblige him.