Here are five key things to watch for when the Texans take on the New York Jets in their regular season opener at Reliant Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is at noon CT.
Texans Whiteout: The Texans will wear white jerseys and white pants against the Jets, and the team is asking fans to wear white in support of the Texans Whiteout theme at Reliant Stadium.
The last time the Texans had a home opener in their white jerseys, they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-3 in 2007. Mario Williams had two sacks and a defensive touchdown in the victory, and Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson combined for 142 yards and a touchdown in their first game together.
The Texans are 12-4 at home over the past two seasons, which is tied for second-best in the NFL.
Rattling the rookie:Mark Sanchez is the first rookie quarterback ever to start a season opener for the Jets. Sanchez, who was Texans linebacker Brian Cushing's roommate for two years at USC, won the job with a dazzling preseason after being selected fifth overall in the draft.
Sanchez has earned high marks for his poise and maturity, especially after he went 5-of-5 for 67 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' preseason finale. But he started only 16 games in his USC career and will begin his professional career in a hostile environment on the road.
If safety Nick Ferguson's words are any indication, the Texans' defense is ready to let loose after keeping it close to the vest in the preseason.
"In the preseason, you want to improve some things, work on some things, but you definitely don't want to go out there and show all the tricks you have up your sleeve," Ferguson said. "As the cliché says, 'A magician shall not reveal all his secrets.'
"You're going to see a more intense style of defense. If you talk to Frank Bush, he wants one of those types of defenses that Buddy Ryan had back in the day with the Chicago Bears. Just fly around and hit people, maybe get some flags or whatever, but you want to let people know that you came to play and it's going to be a real physical game."
Stopping the run: The Jets are expected to rely heavily on the run to take pressure off of Sanchez. The Texans struggled to defend the run in the preseason, allowing consecutive 100-yard games to the Saints and Vikings. New York has a two-headed backfield monster in Thomas Jones, who led the AFC with 1,312 rushing yards last season, and the elusive Leon Washington.
Like the Texans, the Jets feature an offensive line that started all 16 games together last season.
"They work well together as a unit," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's going to be a challenge for us because they're athletic guys and they make it happen. They've got good running backs, good speed. We have to definitely step up and stop their running game and put the ball in the quarterback's hands and make him beat us."
Preparing for chaos:First-year Jets head coach Rex Ryan served as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator from 2005-08. His defensive scheme was known as "organized chaos" for its myriad personnel combinations and blitz packages.
Ryan has wasted no time in putting his stamp on the Jets, using complicated blitzes and unpredictable packages in the preseason. In the Jets' preseason finale, Ryan even stood up 6-4, 360-pound nose tackle Kris Jenkins for a snap at linebacker.
"He's doing the same things in New York," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Ryan. "He gives you a lot of looks with your three-man fronts, four-man fronts, a lot of movement. It's his defense. It's aggressive. As an offense, if you turn the ball over or get sloppy with the football through their aggression, it's a long day for you."
Ryan's Ravens forced four turnovers against the Texans at Reliant Stadium last season, scoring 14 points off two fourth-quarter interceptions to turn a close game into a 41-13 rout. Three players who were on the Ravens in that game – safety Jim Leonhard, inside linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Marques Douglas – will be starting for the Jets on Sunday.
Ins and outs:Schaub (ankle) is listed as probable and is expected to be in the starting lineup on Sunday. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Cushing (knee) will start after missing the entire preseason. So will cornerback Dunta Robinson, who joined the team on Sunday after an offseason contract holdout. Kubiak was impressed by Robinson this week.
"He was good from day one and he's gotten better as the week's went on," Kubiak said. "When you're not part of football, you're not doing it, you don't know technique-wise how a guy is doing. But he looked good. You could tell he had been in Florida working and covering a lot of guys and staying up with what was going on. Probably the most impressive thing was that David's (Gibbs) had to really have a crash course with him, and he's held up. He's done it well."
The news isn't as good for safety Eugene Wilson (knee) and wide receiver Kevin Walter (hamstring). Wilson will not play because of the injury he suffered on an illegal crackback block by Brett Favre on Aug. 31. Walter (hamstring) hasn't practiced this week, but he will be a game-time decision and still could play.
Ferguson will start in place of Wilson, and André Davis will start for Walter if needed. Defensive tackle DelJuan Robinson (calf) is questionable. He was a full participant in practice on Friday.
The Jets will be without defensive lineman Shaun Ellis and linebacker Calvin Pace, who are serving league suspensions. Ellis and Pace combined for 15 sacks last season.
For the official injury report, click here.