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NFL Preview - Houston (1-0) at Washington (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Redskins brought in Mike Shanahan with the goal of restoring the once-formidable franchise back to prominence. The Houston Texans, on the other hand, are attempting to achieve unprecedented heights under the direction of one of the new Washington head coach's disciples.
The pupil will be trying to get the best of the teacher when Gary Kubiak brings his upstart Texans into FedEx Field this Sunday to battle Shanahan's revamped Redskins in an interconference clash between Week 1 winners.
Kubiak spent 11 seasons under Shanahan's tutelage as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos before becoming the second head coach in Texans history in 2006. The pair also worked together for a year with the 1994 San Francisco 49ers, where Shanahan served as offensive coordinator and Kubiak the quarterbacks coach.
Houston has made notable strides during Kubiak's five-year reign, having registered three straight non-losing seasons and posting its first-ever winning campaign with a 9-7 mark in 2009, but the club has still yet to take the next step in its progression and break into the AFC Playoffs.
If the team's debut performance is any indication, this could be the year.
The Texans came out blazing in their season opener, taking full advantage of a raucous home crowd and a record-setting day out of running back Arian Foster to deal defending AFC champion Indianapolis a 34-24 loss last Sunday. Houston roared out to a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter and never trailed, with Foster trampling over a submissive Colts defense for a team-record 231 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries.
Houston has started out 2-0 just once previously, back in 2007 during Kubiak's second season at the helm. The Texans would go on to lose five of their next six games, however, to finish at 8-8.
Washington had a reason to rejoice as well last weekend after knocking off 2009 NFC East winner Dallas by a 13-7 count in Shanahan's first outing in charge. The Redskins were both resourceful and resilient, scoring their lone touchdown on a 32-yard fumble return from cornerback DeAngelo Hall to close out the first half and withstanding a Cowboys comeback attempt in the final stages.
Dallas nearly scored a potential game-winning touchdown on what turned out to be the game's last play, but the score was nullified by tackle Alex Barron's holding penalty on Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo.
Hall's tide-turning touchdown headlined a banner night for a Redskins defense that frustrated the potent Cowboys despite a minimal contribution out of lineman Albert Haynesworth, with the disgruntled two-time All-Pro playing just 16 snaps and making two tackles in a reserve capacity.
Washington's overhauled offense showed to be still a work in progress, however, with new quarterback Donovan McNabb completing under 50 percent of his passes and the unit mustering a modest 250 total yards for the game.
The Redskins will be seeking a better result against a Houston defense that will again be without standout linebacker Brian Cushing, with the 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year set to serve the second of a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The Redskins won the only two all-time meetings with the Texans, including one win each in Houston (31-15 in 2006) and the nation's capital (26-10 in 2002). A Houston-based NFL franchise hasn't won in Washington since the Oilers did so in 1979.
Kubiak is 0-1 all-time against the Redskins. Shanahan is 1-1 against the Texans, and dropped to 0-1 against his former underling Kubiak with the Broncos' 31-13 loss to Houston in 2007. As mentioned, Kubiak served as an assistant under Shanahan from 1995 through 2005 in Denver, also working on the same staff as Shanahan when San Francisco won the Super Bowl in 1994.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Houston was the NFL's most prolific passing team in 2009, averaging an eye- opening 300.2 yards per week through the air, but it was the ground game that paved the way for last Sunday's big win over the Colts. The Texans put up a club-record 257 rushing yards, with Foster (231 rushing yards, 3 TD) becoming the first player in league history to run for over 200 and score three touchdowns in a season opener. The second-year back's stellar showing offset a rather mediocre day from quarterback Matt Schaub, who hit on just 9-of-17 passes for 107 yards and was intercepted once, although the 2009 Pro Bowl participant did connect with trusty wide receiver Kevin Walter (2 receptions, 29 yards) on a 22-yard touchdown in the first half. Top target Andre Johnson had a quiet game as well, making just three catches totaling 33 yards as Houston focused on pounding the football. The All-Pro wideout has recorded 100 or more receptions in three of the past four years, however, and odds are he'll be making more of an impact this week. Kubiak would like to get tight end Owen Daniels more involved in the game plan as well. The fifth-year pro, who was having a terrific 2009 season before tearing his ACL last November, had only one nine-yard catch against Indianapolis and still isn't all the way back from the injury.
Washington's defense bent but hardly broke in the Week 1 triumph over the rival Cowboys, surrendering 380 total yards but limiting their opponent to a mere one touchdown in three red-zone trips. The Redskins were also effective in pressuring Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, with coordinator Jim Haslett bringing the heat from all different angles in an aggressive scheme that flustered the Cowboys all throughout the night. Washington also did an excellent job of tackling, with strong safety LaRon Landry (17 tackles, 1 PD) and inside linebackers London Fletcher (11 tackles) and Rocky McIntosh (10 tackles, 1 sack) flying to the football and keeping most of Romo's completions to a minimum. Look for Haslett to utilize the skills of Orakpo (2 tackles, 1 PD) and fellow outside linebacker Andre Carter (4 tackles), two very good pass rushers who combined for 22 sacks a year ago, again this week in an effort to slow down Houston's dangerous aerial attack. Dallas didn't run the ball a lot in the opener, but the Washington linebackers will have to be on their toes to prevent Foster from going ballistic once again on Sunday.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
While there's no denying Shanahan's talents as an innovative offensive architect and play-caller, last Sunday's game offered plenty of evidence that it's going to take some time for the Redskins to put all the pieces together on that side of the ball. After 11 years operating in the same system in Philadelphia, McNabb looked like a raw rookie at times in his Washington debut, completing only 15-of-32 throws for 171 yards and failing to engineer a touchdown drive. To be fair, the offseason addition didn't get much support from a nondescript group of pass-catchers that has few inviting options beyond veteran wideout Santana Moss (6 receptions, 77 yards) and tight end Chris Cooley (6 receptions, 80 yards). The Redskins also had a tough time picking up yards on the ground on a stout Dallas defense, though veteran Clinton Portis was able to gut out 63 yards on 18 attempts as the primary ball-carrier. A new-look offensive line that features 2009 first-round draft pick Trent Williams at left tackle and ex-Saint Jammal Brown on the right side did a decent job of protecting McNabb, who was sacked just once last week.
McNabb could have an easier time finding the open man when he goes up against a Houston secondary that was torched for 419 net passing yards and three touchdowns by the Colts last week. The Texans' top three cornerbacks -- Kareem Jackson (4 tackles, 1 PD), Glover Quin (4 tackles, 1 PD) and Brice McCain (7 tackles) -- are all in either their first or second year, and the young trio received a harsh learning experience from the great Peyton Manning. Cushing's loss was also felt in coverage, as outside linebacker Zac Diles (12 tackles) found himself a frequent target when Manning worked the underneath routes. It wasn't all that easy a day for the Indianapolis quarterback, though, as ends Mario Williams (4 tackles) and Antonio Smith (1 tackle, 0.5 sacks) were routinely in Manning's face over the course of the game. Williams had a monster outing in particular, with the 2006 No. 1 overall pick credited with one sack and five quarterback hurries. Houston did lose one its other top pass rushers when sophomore end Connor Barwin dislocated his right ankle in the win, with former practice squad member Jesse Nading (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks) the leading candidate to take over his situational role on passing downs. Sturdy middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans (10 tackles, 2 PD) anchors a run defense that finished a respectable 11th in that category (106.9 ypg) last season.
Those who took Schaub and Johnson early in fantasy drafts shouldn't view last week's lack of production by the outstanding tandem as a long-term problem, and the pair should come closer to their usual numbers this time around. As for Foster, it goes without saying that a player coming off a 231-yard, three- touchdown game needs to be inserted into starting lineups. Keep Daniels on the bench, though, until the talented tight end can prove he's ready to become an every-down contributor once again, while both Walter and No. 3 receiver Jacoby Jones (2 receptions, 29 yards) are better served as bye-week fill-ins. On the opposing side, Portis dominated the backfield touches in the opener and Moss and Cooley were the team's lone legitimate receiving threats, making those three the best starting choices among the Redskins. McNabb's adjustment to the new offense, along with Washington's overall dearth of playmakers, no longer make the veteran triggerman a top-level fantasy quarterback at this stage, however.
With these teams running essentially the same offense, the element of surprise shouldn't be a factor here, so Sunday's winner should come down to which side is better able to execute its game plan. If that's the case, then the advantage should go to the Texans. The emergence of Foster and the running game to the Schaub-Johnson connection makes Houston a dangerous opponent capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and the Redskins will have their hands full trying to keep all those weapons in check. Conversely, Washington is still trying to find its way on offense and doesn't possess nearly the talent that a still-questionable Houston defense had to face a week ago.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 24, Redskins 17
09/16 14:00:35 ET