Last Sunday, the Houston Texans exercised some franchise demons in their drumming of the Indianapolis Colts during the first game of the season. This Sunday, they’ll look to build on that momentum when taking on the Miami Dolphins on the road before facing two of the toughest opponents on their schedule.
The Dolphins did not fare as well in their first game as the Texans. While Chad Henne allayed some of his doubters by completing 61 percent of his passes for 416 yards against the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, the defense allowed Tom Brady to pass for 517 yards, which is a Monday Night Football record.
So between the two teams that need a win badly, who will decide which team wins and which team loses? Players that take advantage of their individual battles on the field give their team a great chance to win the overall war. Below are the five matchups that I believe are most pivotal to determining the outcome of the game.
1. Andre Johnson vs. Vontae Davis
The offensive explosion allowed by the Dolphins secondary was done with bad timing for cornerback Vontae Davis, who claimed in the preseason that the position group was the best in the NFL. His task doesn’t get any easier this week when he will likely be given the task of man coverage on Andre Johnson.
Johnson was very involved in the initial game plan against the Colts last week and he is likely to be relied upon heavily again. A large dose of Johnson from the beginning will alleviate pressure from Jacoby Jones starting for the injured Kevin Walter, as well as open the medium range passing game for tight end Owen Daniels.
2. Antonio Smith vs. Richie Incognito
Mario Williams may have received the most attention of the Texans pass rushers due to his two sacks in his first game after his switch to outside linebacker, but Smith was quietly dominant not only against the Colts but also in the preseason. Rushing from the interior as five-technique is Smith’s ideal position and it shows.
On the other hand, Incognito had a very rough game against the Patriots. He committed several penalties and was beaten by a few New England defensive linemen. If he wasn’t athletic enough to stop the much larger Patriots linemen, it could be a very long day for Incognito against the much quicker Smith.
3. Brian Cushing vs. Reggie Bush
On Thursday, Cushing called out his former teammate at USC on Twitter for not being more confident about the outcome of the game on Sunday. Bush has been doing a decent amount of talking himself this season though; just yesterday he told the media that he is completely comfortable running between the tackles despite his reputation of bouncing everything outside.
Cushing looked as good as he has since Week 6 of last season, giving credence to his claim that his poor play in 2010 was due to his injured knee and not a lack of steroids. If Cushing can contain Bush and the Miami running backs it will make the Dolphins offense one dimensional and allow Wade Phillips to get creative with his pass rushers.
4. James Casey vs. Karlos Dansby
Casey had a great first game at his new jack-of-all trades role as Houston’s new fullback. Casey’s ability to block adequately, yet be a real receiving threat out of the backfield and the slot makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Dansby is one of the more athletic inside linebackers in the league, however, and might give Casey his toughest challenge all season. Casey will have to be on top of his game in order to keep Arian Foster and Ben Tate clean, as well as find the first down marker like he did against the Colts.
5. Gary Kubiak vs. The Letdown Game
Historically, the Texans have been very susceptible to the disappointing loss after a big victory. This one step forward, two steps back habit is just one reason why the Texans have not made the playoffs under the embattled coach in the five years he has led the team.
It is great that Phillips has the defense performing much better this season, but Kubiak has to take the next step as a head coach for this team to be a real postseason competitor. Most would agree that the Texans are the better team and should win on Sunday. Gary needs to make sure that the Texans win the games they should, starting Sunday.