The Texans will look to add the Redskins to the list of teams they've actually defeated, as they came up short in both 2002 and 2006 against the boys from Washington. A lot has changed since 2006 though--at least for the Texans, the Redskins are still running the Dan Snyder blueprint of picking up expensive old players and not having much depth. Unfortunately, the Texans will get them when they are still mostly healthy, as it looks like only Kareem Moore has a chance at missing this game. However, the change to the 3-4 defense and subsequent doghousing of Albert Haynesworth means that the interior line probably won't have to deal with much of him, which is good news for those of us that still have Kris Jenkins-Chris Myers flashbacks embedded in our brains.
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON DEFENSE
After last weeks zone/Cover 2 shell inspired Frank Bush gameplan, look for the Texans to spend most of this game in the base 4-3 set. Not only does the Redskins offense pale in comparison to the Colts, but they might only have one wide receiver actually capable of doing damage in Santana Moss. The rest of crew: Joey Galloway, Adrian Armstrong, and Devin Thomas were targeted just seven times, and only caught one ball. The tight ends are a little more dangerous: Chris Cooley is a respectable receiver and Fred Davis behind him looked good last year, but Davis didn't have a single target against the Cowboys. Given how Kareem Jackson had some rookie struggles last week, I'd expect him to be put on the opposite receiver, with Glover Quin getting safety help over the top on Moss.
The Texans will finally feel their first sting of Brian Cushing's absence on Sunday as Xavier Adibi steps into the starting lineup. The good news is that the Redskins running game just isn't very effective--they were 28th in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings last year, and they still employ the Clinton Portis-Larry Johnson backfield punch that would have been a great pair of fantasy football running backs in 2007. The interior offensive line is still pretty old for NFL standards between Casey Rabach, Derrick Dockery, and Artis Hicks, though the team has added some young blood on the sides between the trade for former Saints tackle Jamaal Brown and the drafting of Oklahoma's Trent Williams in the first round. They ran for just 89 yards on the Dallas defense last week.
Speaking of Williams, he is a part of my all-Williams most important matchup of the week: Trent held Dallas pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware to just one sack and three tackles for loss as the Cowboys pass-rush was mostly non-existent against the Skins last week. This week, it only gets rougher, as Mario Williams is coming off a dominating performance against the Colts. If (T)Williams can hold (M)Williams to one sack and keep the pressures down, that would be a big bridge crossed on the way to a Redskins victory. The Texans catch a break in that they actually have regular season game-tape on Trent going into the game, so they can pick at that for flaws and weaknesses. Battle Red Blog did a feature on this matchup earlier in the week. Football Outsiders also ran a piece on Williams this week.
Ultimately I think Dallas has a more talented defense than the Cushing-less Texans, so I expect the Redskins to actually score an offensive touchdown at some point in this game, but like last week, the Redskins aren't well-equipped to attack the Texan defense. Mike Shanahan keeps trick plays to a dull roar, the Redskins don't have the receiver depth to take advantage of the Texans secondary, and their running game is going to need a lot of missed tackles to really get going. About the only thing I worry about in this matchup if I'm the Texans is the possibility of the interior offensive line dominating Shaun Cody and getting to the second level quickly. Given the lack of quality wide receiver play, it might behoove Frank Bush to stack the box early and often.
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON OFFENSE
The most important decision of the week will be how Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison opt to attack this defense. The Redskins pass rush notched just one sack and three hurries, although if Cowboys tackle Alex Barron hadn't drawn three holding penalties, those numbers might've been higher. On the other hand, the Cowboys ran for 4.7 yards per carry against the defense as it transitions to a 3-4, and they still haven't found a real nose tackle yet. Sister site Hogs Haven has watched a lot of Ma'ake Kemoeatu early, and hasn't liked what they've seen.
In my mind, the Redskins linebacking corps is the strength of the team. London Baker-Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh are effective tacklers and Baker-Fletcher is excellent in pass coverage, while Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo are great pass rushers. However, I think Orakpo is somewhat of a liability in run defense, and I'd love nothing more than for the Texans to run it to his side as much as possible. Redskins safety Laron Landry had a solid game on Sunday night, but when your safety is your leading tackler, that's a bad sign for your run defense.
So, where to attack? I think you'll see a lot of the three wide receiver set again. Texans fans should be familiar with Phillip Buchanon from his days as a terrible, terrible, cornerback for the home team. He's the Redskins nickel defensive back, and neither DeAngelo Hall nor Carlos Rogers have been good enough in the past to make me worry about them.
I think you'll see more of a balanced attack early, but I would not be utterly shocked if the Texans lean run again this week. The Redskins best matchup in this game will be Orakpo and Carter on Duane Brown, who was (as usual) a bit of a whipping boy for Dwight Freeney last week. Wade Smith and Eric Winston also had a few "oops" plays, and the offensive line really shined run blocking. The only other thing that would scare me on offense is if Haynesworth found himself in the good graces of management and got some snaps on the interior line.
The most important stat for this game will be drops. Jacoby Jones and Andre Johnson each had an enormous drop last game, Jakespeare in the end zone, and Johnson on the underthrown go route. This is especially important for Jones, who will have the advantage of squaring up on Buchanon and needs to finish his catches to fully imagine his potential. Expect at least one deep touchdown as the Texans passing game gets back on track.
I had this game penciled in as a win from the minute the schedule came out. The Redskins have some good parts, but for the most part I see this team as old and mediocre. McNabb doesn't have enough weapons to throw to, the defensive line is messy, especially without Haynesworth, and there isn't enough star power to drag this team upwards to me. After a dominating week one performance by the Texans and a, frankly, lucky win by the Redskins thanks to the defensive TD, I can't see this team giving the Texans too much trouble. If the Texans manage to turn this into a route rather than the somewhat close game I expect, then the optimism will really flow here. Texans 27, Redskins 17.