One of the best games of this week's NFL action will take place in Houston when the Seattle Seahawks make their second road trip of the season to take on a Texans team who will be looking to rebound from a 30-9 embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. Both teams are lumped in the group of elite squads in their respective conferences, and this game looks to feature both standout defensive playmakers and offensive weapons who will wreak havoc upon one another.
Looking at this game from a broad perspective at first, Seattle is clearly the hot team heading into the game. Currently 3-0 on the year after a drubbing of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Seahawks boast a top defense and an offense that can score in bunches. They are ranked either first or second in just about every NFL Power Ranking out there and have yet to really show any signs of true weakness. As such, they excel in most phases of the game but are particularly adept at eliminating any type of passing attack with their standout secondary unit, the aptly named "Legion of Boom."
The combination of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner/Walter Thurmond III, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have so far limited opposing teams to just 146.7 yards per game through the air, a statistic that ranks them first in the league in that category. If the Texans are to get anything going against this standout defense, they'll likely need to pound the ball early, often and successfully.
Speaking of Houston, they are coming off an aforementioned embarrassing loss to the Ravens that saw them fall apart on special teams, while having to deal with a struggling offense as well. Despite this lackluster performance, however, the Texans are still one of the more dangerous teams on both offense and defense and should not at all be overlooked by a Seattle squad who will be looking to maintain a perfect record in 2013.
On the offensive side of the ball, Houston can move down the field either through the air or on the ground. In fact, their passing yards per game of 259.7 and rushing yards per game of 128.7 statistically rank them ninth in the NFL in both categories. So while Seattle's secondary should be more than ready to go toe-to-toe against the passing attack of Matt Schaub, the 'Hawks will also have to make sure to keep a keen eye out on the rushing ability of Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans are second in the league to Seattle in passing yards and allow just 91.3 yards on the ground per game. As can already be seen, this game will likely be a slugfest along the line of scrimmage that features two great backs looking to power their teams to victories.
Let's break this down a little more and focus on some key individual matchups that will factor big into the outcome of this game.
Likely one of the bigger matchups in this Sunday's game will be Houston's standout defensive end, J.J. Watt, against Breno Giacomini/Michael Bowie. As of right now Giacomini is still listed as the starter but may be limited due to an injury, paving the way for Bowie to try and stop one of the more tenacious and brute players in the league.
It's tough for any player in the league to stop Watt, but having a rookie potentially go up against him could spell doom for Seattle's protection of Russell Wilson throughout the game. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks pound the left side with the run to allow their right side to get used to the pressure Watt will put on them.
Should they be unable to stop him, it could prove to be a long day for Seattle fans.
Another big matchup to watch in this game is DeAndre Hopkins and how he fares against Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Especially with questions surrounding how healthy Andre Johnson will be for the game, expect Hopkins to be Houston's top targeted receiver against the Seahawks.
Drafted with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hopkins has burst onto the scene and proven he can carry the load of an offense should he be asked to do so. He flashes an ability to run precise routes and flex his muscle to shrug off corners and get to the football. Expect Sherman and Browner to stick close to and be physical with Hopkins to try and shut down his playmaking ability. If they can do this, the Seahawks will force the Texans to be one-dimensional and cause a disruption in their offense.
Conversely, on Seattle's offense, one of the biggest matchups will be Golden Tate going against Kareem Jackson. Stepping up big for the Seahawks with newly-acquired Percy Harvin out with an injury, Tate has been productive at wide receiver along with Doug Baldwin. Since the Texans will look to shut down Seattle's rushing attack and force the 'Hawks to take to the air on Sunday, Tate will play an even bigger role in this game than others.
And, as mentioned previously, he'll have to look to make an impact against the second-best pass defense in the league and likely match up against Kareem Jackson. Jackson has missed time this week because of an illness, though Houston is hoping he'll return to provide a good test for Golden Tate and other receivers on Seattle's roster.
Aside from being a great matchup in terms of pass coverage, Tate-Jackson will be important to track in terms of how Tate can block him from disrupting Seattle's runs should they choose to implement more of a read-option this week. Tate is a physical and tough blocker and could prove to be a difference-maker against Jackson on Sunday.
Seattle's game against the Texans on Sunday will be a trying one. They'll need a complete team effort to overcome a squad that Ed Reed believes could match up with them in the Super Bowl, and should they come away unscathed and 4-0, the Seahawks will already be close to cruise control in 2013.