1. Johnson vs. Asomugha – maybe:As individual matchups in the NFL go, it doesn't get much better than Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson versus Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Johnson (6-3, 223) is a four-time Pro Bowler who has led the league in receiving yards in the past two seasons. Asomugha (6-2, 210) is a three-time Pro Bowler who has rarely been thrown at since intercepting eight passes in 2006. In their past two meetings (2008, 2009), Johnson has four catches for 85 yards.
It's hard to get too excited about the matchup, though, because it's unclear if Johnson will play. He didn't practice this week because of a high-ankle sprain and will be a game-time decision on Sunday.
If Johnson sits out, that opens things up for Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones, David Anderson and possibly rookie Dorin Dickerson. When Johnson missed seven games with an injury in 2007, Walter averaged six catches and 75 yards per game, numbers that would net 96 catches for 1,200 yards over a 16-game span. Jones has 11 catches in the last two games and is on pace for the best season of his young career.
2. RB showcase:The game will feature two of the top three rushers in the NFL in Texans running back Arian Foster and the Raiders' Darren McFadden. Foster, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Month, leads the league with 406 rushing yards, while McFadden ranks third with 345.
Both players were 1,000-yard runners in the Southeastern Conference in 2007. Foster had 1,193 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior at Tennessee along with 39 catches for 340 yards. McFadden, a junior at Arkansas, had 1,830 yards and 16 touchdowns at on the ground to go with 21 catches for 164 yards.
McFadden left school early and was drafted fourth overall in 2008. Foster stayed behind for another year and ended up going undrafted in 2009 after his production dipped as a senior. Slowed by injuries in his first two seasons, McFadden is finally starting to live up to his vast potential. Foster, meanwhile, is continuing an incredible rise to stardom after spending most of last season on the Texans' practice squad.
3. Defending the pass:The Texans are looking to improve their 32nd-ranked passing defense, which has allowed 368.7 yards per game. Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb eclipsed 400 yards passing against the Texans in Weeks 1 and 2, and Tony Romo carved up the Texans' secondary for 284 yards in Week 3.
Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has given the Raiders a lift after taking the reins from Jason Campbell in Week 2. Oakland scored 13 points in Week 1 but has averaged 19.5 in two games with Gradkowski under center.
"I think they're playing very well offensively with the new quarterback for the last two weeks," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's very mobile. They're good at running the ball and then they add his mobility and those types of things that make it very difficult to defend from that standpoint. They've been moving the ball very well."
Rookie starter Kareem Jackson was beaten for a long touchdown pass by the Cowboys' Roy Williams last week, but he and the rest of the Texans' young cornerbacks should continue to improve as the season progresses.
"I think you have to be thrown in the fire and you have to have those rough plays because those are the plays you learn from," Asomugha said on Wednesday. "If (Jackson) sticks with and continues to work hard he'll start to see it turn around at some point because it always does. It's just a matter of being patient."
4. Looking for more:Defensive end Mario Williams has been a one-man show for the Texans' defense, recording four of the team's five sacks this season. Will another player emerge as his running mate in the pass rush to help take pressure off the secondary?
The Texans worked out retired free agent Aaron Schobel this week but didn't sign him, indicating that they have faith in the players on their roster to get the job done. Look for veteran defensive ends Ryan Denney and Adewale Ogunleye to become bigger factors as they get more acclimated to the Texans' defense.
Ogunleye has 67 sacks in his career, including 6.5 in 14 games with the Chicago Bears last season. Kubiak said that he is rounding into playing shape and could make his first appearance of the season this week.
5. Protecting Schaub:After being sacked five times by the Cowboys and four times by the Redskins, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has been sacked 11 times in three games this season. He was sacked 25 times all of last season.
"There's a few of those times it's on me," Schaub said this week. "There are few times I could've thrown the ball away and just gotten rid of it to avoid one or two sacks. It's part of the game… We're getting it right and we're going to be fine."
Rashad Butler fared well in his first start at left tackle last Sunday. Kubiak said that the high number of sacks is due to a combination of factors.
"The bottom line is we've got too many sacks," Kubiak said. "How you fix it is by blocking better and calling the right plays and get help in certain places. Those are the things that we're going to continue to do. The best remedy for that is to stay committed to running the football."
The Raiders have recorded seven sacks in 2010, two more than the Texans. They ranked 11th in the NFL with 37 sacks in 2009.