Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers Week One Review

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By: Shasky Clarke

Texans 31, Chargers 28

In what was probably the best game of week one, the Houston Texans came back, after a 28-7 deficit in the third quarter, to beat the Chargers with a game-winning field goal. An unfortunate first half involved an interception by a Charger nose tackle, a missed Randy Bullock field goal and difficulty handling slot match-ups on defense that allowed the Chargers to end the half with a 21-7 lead.

But, ultimately, even without a really consistent running game, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was on fire, keeping drives alive by converting on third downs and being accurate under pressure. The Texans dominated time of possession as the offense was much more successful on third and long than it had been in recent times. Houston simply had too many good match-ups in the passing game, with wide receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels combining for 17 receptions, 213 yards and two touchdowns.

The Texans defense shut down the Chargers for the most part in the second half and San Diego running back Ryan Mathews was a non-factor. In the fourth quarter, they held Rivers to just 1 of 7 for eight yards and a pivotal interception for touchdown. But there are still concerns regarding how the unit covers slot receivers and backs out of the backfield.

Overall, Houston outplayed San Diego for the most part and finished the game in impressive fashion.

Player of the Game

Matt Schaub was super sharp, completing 34 of 45 passes and playing very well under pressure. A couple balls were batted at the line of scrimmage, including the one during the first game of the season that led to a costly interception. But Schaub was his typical efficient self, taking what the defense gave him in the short and intermediate areas and showing good zip on deeper patterns on third and longs.

Running Game

Arian Foster got a heavy load but wasn’t very effective at around three yards per carry. But when Ben Tate got his chances, he had success using his speed to get around the edge of the Chargers defense. While Foster didn’t find a ton of room, to the eye, he looked like his old self, running with exceptional balance and smoothness. The offense did run for over 100 yards on what was one of the league’s single best run defenses in 2012.

Key Match-up: Edge Rusher Dwight Freeney versus Left Tackle Duane Brown

Duane Brown may be a top two or three left tackle in the NFL, but he had his hands full with old veteran Dwight Freeney in Freeney;s first game as a Charger. Freeney is still super explosive and powerful. He made his presence known all game. Nonetheless, he was still held to half a sack and Schaub was overall only sacked twice in 47 pass plays.

Texans Defense

After getting eaten up in man coverage by Eddie Royal, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews in the first half, and after the first possession of the third quarter, the Texans defense was lights out. It held Rivers to a completion percentage under 50%. Even without defensive end Antonio Smith, it kept Ryan Mathews to less than three yards per carry.

The unit struggled in the slot, guarding Eddie Royal with Brice McCain as well as matching up with Antonio Gates and the running backs. But the team eventually had significant success utilizing a dime package against San Diego’s three-wide sets, using three cornerbacks and three safeties, including rookie safety D.J. Swearinger playing in the box.

On another note, defensive end J.J. Watt notched a tackle for loss, a batted pass and two quarterback hits. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed still has much to prove as a pass rushing threat but fellow edge rusher Whitney Mercilus flashed from the other side.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how free safety Ed Reed’s return will change how aggressive Wade Phillips calls the defense. Fill-in safety Shiloh Keo simply lacks enough speed and range to trust him to do much in the back end.

Play of the Game

Brian Cushing showcased his speed and playmaking ability, picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Capitalizing on heavy blitz pressure, Cushing jumped on a poor Rivers decision deep in San Diego territory. The inside linebacker and his size and athleticism were sorely missed in 2012.