Looking ahead to the Houston Texans' first game of the season this Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars, at this moment, anyway, represent arguably Houston's best opportunity to win this season.
Their AFC South rivals are, like Houston, amidst a rebuild led by a first-time NFL head coach.
In terms of matchups, there are some favorable ones, and some not-so-favorable ones, that the Texans will need to exploit to start the season 1-0.
The Jags have invested heavily in their secondary and have plenty of young talent. That being said, they are young.
Alongside three second-year defensive backs are rookies Tyson Campbell and Andre Cisco, both of whom are set to play a big part in this defense. Houston needs the likes of veteran receivers Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Chris Conley to take full advantage of their inexperience.
No, not that Josh Allen. The third-year defensive end had a disappointing second season, cut short by injury. However, with 10.5 sacks and a Pro Bowl to his name in 2019, he can wreak havoc at his best.
His best chance to succeed will come against the right-hand side of Houston's offensive line.
Right guard Max Scharping had a promising rookie year but dipped last season, while Marcus Cannon, who looks set to start at right tackle, hasn't played since 2020.
If Cannon can return to his form of old, Houston will be in safe hands. If not, it could be a rough game for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Allen will be a tough test for this new-look duo to Taylor's right.
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Run, Run, Run
The Texans haven't made their intentions to be a run-heavy offense a secret this preseason. And with a quartet of backs to choose from, Jacksonville's front seven face a busy day.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown looks the most likely to cause Houston's run game problems. But, if interior linemen Justin Britt, Tytus Howard, and the aforementioned Scharping can keep Brown at bay then Houston's offense could have a productive day.
Inexperienced Secondary Part 2
As has been the case for a few years, Houston's secondary could prove problematic. With their top corner Bradley Roby now gone (although he was suspended for Week 1 anyway) Houston is left with Vernon Hargreaves, Terrence Mitchell, and Desmond King the most likely to feature heavily at corner... two of whom are new to the Texans as of 2021.
As such, with a potential game-changer in QB Trevor Lawrence heading their way this weekend, along with two dangerous receiving weapons in Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones, returning starting safeties Justin Reid and Eric Murray will have to be on their toes all game.
Defensive coordinator has preached the importance of turning the ball over since the day he arrived, and it paid dividends in the preseason. Houston's defense looked well organized, particularly upfront, as they notched 10 turnovers in three games.
To put into perspective the level of improvement in this category from 2020, the Texans recorded nine turnovers all of last season...
They will need to keep this upward momentum and impressive productivity going through Week 1. This is a great opportunity to take advantage of their experience and depth on the defensive line to make life as difficult as possible for Lawrence in his first NFL start.
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