NFL Preview - Houston (0-0) at San Diego (0-0)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The San Diego Chargers will kick off the Mike McCoy era by
hosting the defending AFC South Champion Houston Texans in the second half of
ESPN's Kickoff Weekend "Monday Night Football" doubleheader.
If the NFL truly is a war of attrition McCoy and the Chargers have been in
full retreat already.
The former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator thought he landed in America's
Most Beautiful City as the architect of the reclamation product called Philip
Instead he finds himself in the sequel to "MASH." A tough rebuilding job was
only made more difficult for McCoy by a host of bumps and bruises during
training camp and the preseason.
It all started back in May when McCoy lost emerging outside linebacker Melvin
Ingram to a torn ACL during OTAs and things haven't slowed since. From hard-
luck wide receiver Danario Alexander's torn ACL to Malcolm Floyd's sprained
knee to Eddie Royal's bruised lung and concussion to Manti Te'o sprained foot,
McCoy has to be wondering if there is a Voodoo doll out there with his name on
"It's part of the game," McCoy said when discussing all of his team's
injuries. "It's the unfortunate part when you lose the guys we've lost, but
it's an opportunity for the other guys to step up."
No one is going to feel sorry for the Chargers, though, so the mantra has to
be next man up and forging ahead with the original plan, keeping Rivers clean
in the pocket.
The veteran North Carolina State product is obviously still a talented
quarterback but he fell on hard times during the final season of the Norv
Turner era, thanks in large part to a porous offensive line.
Losing the team's best offensive lineman -- guard Louis Vasquez -- to AFC
West-rival Denver didn't help and mission No. 1 in San Diego has been
rebuilding things up front.
D.J. Fluker was the best O-Line prospect left on the board when San Diego
picked at No. 11 overall in the 2013 draft and general manger Tom Telesco bit.
Fluker has flourished early and looks like he will solidify the right tackle
position. Whether pedestrian veteran King Dunlap can do the same on the left
side is another question.
Defensively, the spotlight figures to follow former Notre Dame star Te'o, a
great college player who fell in the draft because of his strange "catfishing"
Te'o, though, will have to wait at least another week to make his NFL debut.
The Chargers have ruled out their promising rookie or Monday's opener because
of his sprained right foot.
Te'o -- the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season with the Fighting Irish --
originally injured the foot in the Aug. 8 preseason opener and has been
wearing a walking boot since.
Perhaps the best thing about the Houston Texans' forecast for 2013 is that
it's similar to what might have been said 12 months ago.
The now 12-year-old franchise has high-profile names at several positions, a
veteran coaching staff and has successfully turned the corner -- thanks to
consecutive AFC South Division championships -- from perennial expansion
doormat to legitimate conference powerhouse.
Of course, where some see a blessing, others may imply something less.
With two straight playoff appearances and a roster largely in the prime of its
collective life, expectations tend to change quickly. And in the case of the
Texans, those expectations are nearing a point where another 12-4 finish with
one playoff win will be judged a failure rather than a success.
If you ask Houston star defensive end J.J. Watt, though, that's a good thing.
"Expectations are extremely high and that's the way they should be," he said.
"You should, every single day, attack it like the highest of the high
expectation and you should expect to be great. If you're coming out here just
hoping for a decent season, you're coming out here for the wrong reasons. You
don't want to go to the dance and sit on the sideline. You want to get out
there and move a little bit."
Watt, who surpassed 20 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season, is aiming
for a triple-crown of 20 or more sacks, tackles for loss and pass defections
this year. He also made noise in training camp about wanting to flip to the
other side of the ball -- to join fellow former Wisconsin Badger tight ends
Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham.
Coach Gary Kubiak has been lukewarm at best when it comes to that proposition,
saying "it's not going to be anytime soon." But while he's not particularly
intrigued with the idea of putting his stud defensive player in the sights of
opposing defenders who might want to do him harm, the eighth-year coach has
few qualms about admitting that his preseason goal is, and remains, a world
That said, a large part of his task is keeping the team focused on short-term
gains that make the long-term objectives possible.
"I never showed up for any camp not wanting to (win a title), so this year's
not any different," Kubiak said. "I'm the guy that's got to keep everybody
focused on the work. A lot of people talk about those things this time of year
-- everybody wants to play in that game and get to that game. But unless you
work your tail off and understand that there's going to be a lot of highs and
lows throughout the course of a season. I've got to keep everybody grounded
and be ready to play opening day against San Diego."
The Chargers are a perfect 4-0 in their history against the Texans, beating
Houston twice at Qualcomm Stadium and twice in Reliant Stadium. This is the
second time these two teams have locked up in a season opener as they opened
the 2004 season in South Texas, a 27-20 San Diego win which kicked off a 12-4
campaign for the Chargers that season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
When you are struggling with your offensive line, the last name you want to
see on the other side of the football is Watt, perhaps the biggest single
disrupter in football. Although listed as a five-technique end in the 3-4,
defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can move Watt up and down the line to
exploit various matchups and he should have plenty with the rookie Fluker as
well as nondescript interior players like Jeromey Clary and Nick Hardwick set
to oppose the All-Pro.
Mix in the returning Brian Cushing at linebacker and you come up with one of
the best defenses in football for Houston and one where Rivers will have
trouble attacking with the banged-up Floyd and Royal manning the wide receiver
Safety Ed Reed has been listed as a game-time decision by Kubiak as the
veteran continues to deal with scar tissue issues in his surgically repaired
hip. Even if Reed does play, it will be in some kind of rotation because
Shiloh Keo has been named the starter at free safety.
Offensively, Houston may have finally found a real complement outside the
numbers for Andre Johnson in rookie wideout DeAndre Hopkins. A lengthy field-
stretcher, Hopkins should also help open up the underneath stuff for Daniels
Running back Arian Foster, meanwhile, remains one of the best in the game and
really helps set up easy play-action reads for quarterback Matt Schaub.
Te'o's injury forces San Diego to vault a mediocre option like Bront Bird into
Up front the Chargers expect a big year from end Corey Liuget while veteran
Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle is the leader of a defensive backfield which is
working in new starters at the corners, former Jaguar Derek Cox and third-year
man Shareece Wright.
The Chargers have never lost to the Texans but McCoy may have a tough time
living up to that history because Houston is now the consistent AFC powerhouse
not San Diego.
The Texans have won four straight road openers and are coming off a season in
which they piled up the most wins in franchise history with 12. You should be
able to make that five consecutive solid debuts on Monday as Houston takes its
first step to another 12-win campaign.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 31, Chargers 20
09/09 08:59:28 ET