The Houston Texans defense will be without one of its best players Monday night against the San Diego Chargers, as DE Antonio Smith sits out the final game of his suspension for attempting to behead Richie Incognito in the preseason. San Diego may think they are catching a break as Jared Crick will start in place of Smith, but the fact of the matter is Chargers QB Philip Rivers is in for a long night against the Texans front seven.
The jury is out if the Chargers will be improved this season, but one glaring weakness from last season reared its head again in the preseason. That weakness is the play of the offensive line. San Diego finished next to last in total offense in 2012 at 31st. That was mainly due to the fact that Rivers was either getting sacked or running for his life every time he dropped back to pass. Rivers is not the fleetest of signal callers, so shoddy protection will definitely have a negative effect on the San Diego passing game.
They gave up 49 sacks last season, and used their top pick in the draft on OL D.J. Fluker out of the University of Alabama. The rookie will start at right tackle, although he may be better suited at guard. At the opposite tackle spot and protecting Rivers’ blind side will be King Dunlap, who the Chargers signed in free agency. Both tackles are big, but slow-footed in pass protection. That will be where the Texans front seven will attack them from, on the edges.
It will literally be pick your poison for the Chargers protection scheme. If they decide to give help to Fluker, whose welcome to the NFL gift is trying to block J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus will have a free run on Rivers. Should they use running backs and tight ends to chip on the Texans outside linebackers, that will create one-on-one matchups for Earl Mitchell and a blitzing Brian Cushing to shoot the gaps inside.
The best bet for the Chargers will be quick three step drops and quick passes to try to negate the Texans rush. However, Rivers is a quarterback who has a penchant for holding the ball and trying to make plays downfield. That will be a recipe for disaster Monday night, as the Texans front seven should and will cause havoc for Rivers. The only way San Diego will compete with the Texans is if their revamped offensive line can keep Rivers upright. As they continue to be a work in progress, I wouldn’t count on it happening. Look for the Texans pass rush to control this game and lead to a long, frustrating season opening night for Rivers.