This week's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers is a prove-it game. Can you prove to the doubters and the critics that you are THAT team? It's not the Super Bowl. It's not a championship game. It's only Week 3 of the season, but it just feels like the Texans have a real chance to prove to many that this is the type of team opponents do not want to play week in and week out.
Prove-it games are the best. Loved them as a player. Loved them as a coach. Love them even more now. That's Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers. A prove-it game. Why? Road trip to Los Angeles. Coming off two last-second nail-biters. Facing a future Hall of Fame quarterback, in addition to plenty of Pro Bowl talent oozing through on the other sideline. 12-4 team with a playoff win in 2018. One of the best in the AFC. Anything I left out? Nope. Quite simply, can you prove to them, and the rest of the league, that you are THAT team?
The Chargers are still led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers, one of the most ardent competitors in this league. He's got a weird release but one of the quickest triggers I've ever seen. He should've been sacked two or three times in the last matchup with the Texans in 2016, but he zipped passes for completions and touchdowns in a 21-13 win over Houston at NRG Stadium. Now, he's got Keenan Allen (injured in 2016), but his offensive line has seen better days. Can the Texans exploit that front to get to Rivers before he fires away?
Defensively, the Chargers have two of the best edge rushers in the NFL, arguably the best pass rush duo in the NFL. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram create headaches for everyone they face, but if the rush is working and the Chargers banged-up secondary isn't, can the Texans move the ball effectively through the air as they did against New Orleans in Week 1? Tons of questions and hopefully, the Texans will answer in the positive on Sunday afternoon.
Without further ado, let's get to know our old friends the Los Angeles SUPER Chargers. Nah, doesn't have the same ring to it.
2019 Schedule (record 1-1):
W, Indianapolis 30-24 (OT)
L, @ Detroit 13-10
Chargers offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 131.0 ypg (10th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 298.5 ypg (8th)
Total offense per game - 429.5 ypg (4th)
Turnovers lost - 4 (2 INT, 2 fumbles lost)
Projected Chargers starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - Philip Rivers
RB - Austin Ekeler
WR - Keenan Allen
WR - Travis Benjamin
WR - Mike Williams
TE - Virgil Green (Hunter Henry was injured in Week 1)
LT - Trent Scott
LG - Dan Feeney
C - Mike Pouncey
RG - Michael Schofield III
RT - Sam Tevi
Other key offensive pieces:
FB - Derek Watt
WR - DONTRELLE INMAN (returned to the Chargers in 2019 after stint with Colts)
RB - Justin Jackson
TE - Sean Culkin
Key offensive pieces lost:
RB - Melvin Gordon (Pro Bowler, holding out)
LT - Russell Okung (injured)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Chargers offense:
1. How frequently can the Texans defense put pressure on Philip Rivers and how varied can they scheme up that pressure? More than likely, the most important pressure is ultra-quick pressure up the middle in his face, in the A and B gaps, right in Rivers face, leaving him with no true escape plan.
2. Have a plan for running back Austin Ekeler. He isn't Alvin Kamara (Saints), but he has a similar skill set that can be trouble for the Texans if they don't treat him as such.
3. Bring your big boy pads to corral running back Justin Jackson when he comes into the game fresh. He won't get 20 carries, but with the eight or nine that he gets, he runs his guts out and is a monster to tackle.
4. Change the looks/spin the dial with coverage such that star receiver Keenan Allen isn't quite sure what he's looking at, especially when he's in the slot. He's flat out brilliant as a route runner, but if the Texans can alter the looks consistently, they'll have a better chance to keep him from a double digit reception day.
5. Let J.J. Watt move up and down the line of scrimmage and find the matchup that he likes and knows that he can exploit. It's about that time for him to have a Watt-like day against his brother's team.
Chargers defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 148.5 ypg (28th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 209.0 ypg (8th)
Total offense allowed per game - 357.5 ypg (17th)
Turnovers generated - 2 (2 INT - Chargers are -2 in TO margin after Week 1)
Projected Chargers starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DE - Joey Bosa
DT - Justin Jones
NT - Brandon Mebane
DE - Melvin Ingram III
LB - THOMAS DAVIS SR.
LB - Kyzir White (Denzel Perryman could see more time after rehabbing from injury)
LB - Uchenna Nwosu
CB - Michael Davis/Brandon Facyson
S - Rayshawn Jenkins
S - RODERIC TEAMER / DONTAE JOHNSON / NASIR ADDERLEY (all rookies)
CB - Casey Hayward
Other key defensive pieces:
DT - JERRY TILLERY (rookie)
NT - Damion Square
LB - DRUE TRANQUILL (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Chargers defense:
1. Don't let Bosa/Ingram wreck the game. I've heard Coach O'Brien say those words multiple times over the past six years and the Texans must heed those words this week for certain.
2. Attack the side opposite of Casey Hayward. Now, don't be stubborn and avoid him completely, but regardless of who steps into that opposite corner spot, he isn't in the same stratosphere as Hayward.
3. Pound the rock until they say "Uncle!" The Colts ran all day long on the Chargers to the tune of 203 yards. The Colts answered the physical bell and gave the Chargers' front nightmares. Hit 'em with the El Guapo/Duke combination all day long and make them have to bring one of those safeties into the box to stop it. Speaking of safeties...
4. Over the past year, the Chargers lost safeties Derwin James (on injured reserve), Adrian Phillips (on injured reserve) and Jahleel Addae (now a Texan). There's a great chance that a rookie plays at one safety spot, so there's an opportunity to exploit that inexperience in the deep passing game.
5. Find the inner drip or swag or confidence or whatever you want to call it. The best that I've seen this offense all year long was in Green Bay when the music kicked off a dance party for the ages. Once the music kicked in, the swag turned up to max volume and this offense was phenomenal. Play loose and full of swag and put the ball in the end zone.
Check out the best Week 2 images from Texans team photographer Zach Tarrant. Presented by Houston Methodist.