Houston Texans: What to Watch For in Week 1

By Mike Kerns
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come — no more preseason games, no more roster cuts. Starting tomorrow evening, the games begin to count for the Houston Texans.

Opening the season on the road against a team they haven’t beaten in franchise history, nothing is for certain for the Texans. Houston opens as a road favorite and has a stout roster full of high expectations. But what should fans look out for?

With Ed Reed said to be a game-time decision for the opener, the secondary is going to have to grab the spotlight here. Even if Reed does play, there are no guarantees of how he will play in a new scheme with zero reps in the preseason.

But it isn’t like it could be much worse than if Gary Kubiak sticks to his guns and runs special teams specialist Shiloh Keo out there opposite Danieal Manning.

There have been a few red flags about the coverage problems of Johnathan Joseph during camp and the preseason as well. Once considered a top-three corner in the league capable of locking down half of the field, Joseph struggled playing through an injury in 2012 and has gotten toasted many times in preseason games.

If he doesn’t look the part tomorrow night, the dependency on J.J. Watt and the Texans’ pass rush is going to be at a premium.

Speaking of the Houston pass rush, Whitney Mercilus takes the reins as a starter next to Brooks Reed after sitting out the entire preseason with a sore hamstring. What he excels at is just teeing off on the passer, so it’ll be interesting to see if San Diego runs at him and challenges Mercilus to make the tackle.

Against the run, there are likely to be some growing pains with him, but having Brian Cushing behind him will make it an easier transition than in minimal snaps in 2012.

On offense, the regular season debut of DeAndre Hopkins has Texans fans stirred into a frenzy. After missing most of the preseason due to precautionary concussion testings, fans are anxious to see if “Nuk” is as good as advertised.

Replacing Kevin Walter doesn’t make for tough shoes to fill, but if it can help Matt Schaub get out of his funk of having tunnel vision for Andre Johnson and little else, he was worth the investment. It is likely to take a couple of games for Schaub to trust Hopkins enough to just throw the ball up and let him make a play, but it’ll come in time.

I don’t expect Hopkins to set the world on fire in his first regular season game in the league, but it isn’t impossible.

Lastly, the Texans’ running back duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate are whole again. With the team hoping to get the 2011 version of this duo, I still expect to see Tate get more carries than Foster this week. The coaching staff is serious about lowering Foster’s carry count, and they want to ease him back in after sitting out all of the preseason with back concerns.

The biggest thing Houston will be looking for in the opener is balance on both sides of the ball. If only one unit dominates, it’s difficult to see the other taking this game over. It’s a rebuilding San Diego team with a rookie head coach, but we’ve seen that movie before when Mark Sanchez lit the team up in his rookie debut.

Thankfully, even if Ed Reed can’t go, this version of the Texans won’t have John Busing starting at safety.

Mike Kerns is a Houston Texans writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and on Google. You can also listen to his Texans Luv Ya Steel Blue podcast on iTunes.

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