After a run game butt whoopin' that was kept from a dominating scoreline only by Frank Bush's zone defense, the Texans (3-1) come into Sunday's game looking to go over .500 against the NFC East. The Giants (2-2) are riding high after their sackfest of Jay Cutler, and although that's unlikely to repeat itself, the Texans would be wise to have the same sort of gameplan they ran against Oakland: quick drops, snap throws, screens, and other ways of getting the ball out early.
This is a pretty even matchup in my mind. They can match each other star for star, with the Giants better on defense and the Texans better on offense. Brian Cushing's return should push the Texans defense up to par with the Giants offense, and although I'd call the Giants more talented, it's close enough to fall within the margin of homefield advantage.
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON DEFENSE
The Giants run game has been steady, but hardly dominant. Brandon Jacobs hasn't been doing much at all, and while Ahmad Bradshaw has been terrific in open space, he hasn't found his way there too often. The Texans, with Cushing in tow, should solidify themselves back to last year's performance stopping the run. While the Giants run game will be competent, don't expect them to be churning out yards or to spend a lot of time on it unless they're running the clock out.
This game will be won or lost for the Giants with the pass. They haven't been elite this year, despite having what I'd call three very competent wide receivers and a good quarterback, and the reason comes down to pass blocking. The Giants have had offensive line injuries to deal with, as David Diehl is playing out of position at left tackle and starting center Shaun O'Hara will be out. If this sounds like a broken record at this point, it's because it's true: it is absolutely dire that the Texans get pass pressure on the Giants if they want to win this game. The pass defense can't stand up to the Giants receivers if they don't get some help. Because of how weak Diehl has been so far, I'd argue that it's absolutely imperative that the Texans win this week's most important matchup: Diehl vs. Mario Williams, convincingly.
WHEN THE TEXANS ARE ON OFFENSE
The Giants have definitely been dominant at rushing the quarterback, but lost in the shuffle is how effective nose tackle Chris Canty has been for them thus far. Texans center Chris Myers will have his hands full trying to seal that off, and the Texans might have to resort more to the outside runs to be effective. If the Texans can get past the line, Arian Foster should be able to exploit the Giants linebackers. Because the Texans will need to avoid that dangerous pass rush, the most important stat will be the percentage of time the Texans can get the ball to second and five or less. Staying on schedule is always a good idea, but against a dominant pass rush, it's damn near imperative to success.
The pass offense will probably have to stick with the same tenets it did against Oakland. If you're a Matt Schaub fantasy owner, you're probably locked into him, but if you have someone playing a weaker pass defense, I might go with them instead. Of course, if Andre Johnson plays, they'll all look much better than they did last week. Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas, and big money free agent acquisition Antrel Rolle make up a secondary that is pretty good in it's own right. The most important decision will be how often the Texans decide to wind up and take a shot down field. They don't need to do it every play, but they definitely need to get their play-action back on track.
Two teams that are fairly evenly matched enter, and one team leaves with a winning record. Who that team is depends on if Andre Johnson plays or not. Hooray for hedging your prediction!
With Andre Johnson, it's Houston 24, New York 21. Without him, it's New York 21, Houston 17.