It's been described as a "Super Bowl or bust" year for the Houston Texans, and with a prime-time spot on Monday Night Football to open the season, the Texans offered everyone a taste of good and bad during their 31-28 win over the San Diego Chargers.
The good came on offense, as Matt Schaub was electric all night after throwing an interception on the first play of the game. The bad was it took Houston an entire half of football to find any sort of chemistry on defense, with Wade Phillips' unit giving up a ton of yards to Philip Rivers.
Still, they say great teams find a way to win, and after 24 unanswered points, Randy Bullock hit a last-second 41-yard field goal to steal a victory.
There was a lot to take away from this one, so here's a look at where the Texans stand after an opening win.
DeAndre Hopkins Helped Andre Johnson Out, a Lot
The Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins for a reason: to help take the focus of defenses away from Andre Johnson. On Monday night, that plan worked perfectly, as the Chargers defense struggled to contain both playmakers, particularly late in the second half.
Hopkins had a quiet first half, but was responsible for a big play on 3rd-and-19 which led to the Texans pulling back within a touchdown. He ended up with 66 yards in his first real game as a starter, and while the Chargers were paying close attention to him late in the fourth quarter, Johnson was quietly making catches on the other side to set up the game-winning field goal.
If you tally it all up, Hopkins had a hand in the Texans’ final three scoring passages, and funnily enough, the Chargers were happy to give Johnson some room during Matt Schaub’s two-minute drill to close the game.
J.J. Watt Was Missing
This game was pretty physical, but not like it should have been. Defensive end J.J. Watt was matched pretty well by the Chargers brand new offensive line all night long, and despite a blocked pass in the third quarter, he wound up with zero sacks to his name and a pretty uneventful night overall.
There’s no doubt that just having Watt on the field scares defenses enough to keep them honest, though. And even if he didn’t touch Rivers, the pass block he made was on a crucial third down, alongside a few other big tackles on running back Ryan Mathews throughout the game.
This, of course, isn’t anything to panic over, especially with Brian Cushing showing why he was missed so much last season.
Matt Schaub Showed a Lot of Leadership
When it first happened, it looked like Schaub might be in for a long night. The Chargers safeties were pressing hard, and the Texans wide receivers were struggling to find space.
Luckily, Schaub showed some real leadership qualities soon after all of this had happened. Gary Kubiak’s plan was to stick with a balanced offense of run and pass, and when Ben Tate or Arian Foster weren’t touching the ball, Schaub managed to settle things down a little with short passes to tight end Owen Daniels, who caught two touchdowns on the night.
Schaub also recognized the need to share the ball around. In total, he used six different receivers (Foster, Johnson, Daniels, Graham, Hopkins and Tate) and despite so much criticism over the offseason, he actually looked elite driving down the field late in the fourth quarter.
Texans Safeties Still Have Work to Do
Ed Reed warmed up for about an hour before the game, but was still unable to suit up and play. Therefore, the secondary of the Texans defense was fairly young, and it looked pretty vulnerable for much of the game.
The Chargers did a good job of recognizing when the Texans safeties were playing deep and quickly got the ball out to either Mathews or Ronnie Brown on short screen passes.
As a result, San Diego was 4-of-4 in the red zone and completed seven of their 14 third-down attempts.
One of the players who was the biggest worry was rookie D.J. Swearinger. He was given the difficult task of playing on Antonio Gates, getting burned a couple of times up the middle late in the second half.
This gave the Chargers a big swing of momentum heading into the locker room, and that only continued to spill over in the third quarter when San Diego scored on the opening possession.
Shiloh Keo Is a Player to Watch
The stat sheet reads that third-year free safety Shiloh Keo had eight yards on a rushing attempt, but that wasn’t what captured everyone’s attention.
Late in the third quarter, Keo was responsible for a big hit on Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal, which caused an incompletion on third down. At the time, it didn’t look like a momentum-changer, but the Texans went on to score again soon after.
Just moments later, Keo made yet another big play on a gutsy fake punt call from Kubiak on 4th-and-short and ran the ball straight up the middle to give the Texans a first down.
Right now, all of this could mean very little if Ed Reed comes back next week and claims what’s his, but since being drafted in the fifth round in 2011, Keo has some big playmaking ability that is still yet to be seen.
The Right Side of the Offensive Line Looks Fine
Following surgery in the offseason to repair a torn patella tendon, right tackle Derek Newton and guard Brandon Brooks looked solid on the right-hand side for most of the evening.
While Kubiak was dialing up a good mix of run and pass, the offensive line opened up some big-time gaps for Foster and Tate, who combined for 112 yards. Realistically, that number is a little low for one of the premier running back combos in the league, but the positive was that Schaub stayed off the ground, finishing with a passer rating of 110.0.
High-Tempo Offense Helped Texans Back into the Game
It was nothing like Kelly’s well-oiled machine in Washington just hours before, but Kubiak did a nice job of mixing up the play calls and keeping the Chargers defense guessing.
In the second half, the Texans stuck to very short huddles and were up at the line of scrimmage with plenty of time left on the play clock. This will probably be the norm for many teams this season, and, luckily, Houston has the receivers to go with it.
Kubiak’s play-calling was balanced and very aggressive. He wasn’t afraid to take shots downfield on 3rd-and-long, and it payed off with big-time strikes to the likes of Hopkins and Johnson.
Nothing Has Changed with Brian Cushing
Some thought we might see a slower Brian Cushing to start the season after missing so much time last year. Unfortunately for them, they were wrong.
Cushing capped off an impressive night with a 17-yard pick-six to tie the game for the Texans in the middle of the fourth quarter. He did leave the game soon after that with what appeared to be a knee injury, but we’ll wait and see what happens there.
Rivers was caught looking for Danny Woodhead, while Cushing was a step ahead after freeing up on the blitz and moving to his right to secure a diving interception. With J.J. Watt having a quiet one, these kinds of plays in the middle of the defense made the difference.
The Texans Struggled with Dwight Freeney
Matt Schaub wasn’t exactly pummeled, but Dwight Freeney had his way more often than not.
In the early stages of the first half, Freeney burst through the offensive line on multiple occasions, making life hard for Schaub in the pocket. He was also responsible for a big push on 4th-and-1, stuffing Foster short of a first down.
Attribute this to Freeney being a playmaker, maybe. But the Texans need to get better down front if they want Foster to have a big-time breakout year. When momentum was all on the Chargers side, Freeney forced a three-and-out on the Texans’ second drive of the game, making his presence known.
Really, Schaub was lucky to have only been sacked once.
Do the Texans Still Have a Problem with Premier Passing?
Philip Rivers isn’t an elite quarterback, but he was on his game until everything flew off the handle in the fourth quarter.
For most of the game, people were left wondering if the new-look Texans defense still had a problem with premier passing, the same issue that plagued them last season when guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady torched them for hundreds of yards.
It’s only Week 1, so it’s a big wait and see. Next to D.J. Swearinger’s struggles, fifth-year cornerback Brice McCain looked lost without some kind of veteran leadership in the secondary.
Shots of Ed Reed barking out orders on the sideline were seen during the game, but the inclusion of him into the defense next week against the Tennessee Titans will be a huge addition.