November 19, 2019

Washington Redskins Week 1 Preview: Houston Texans

It’s finally here, ladies and gentleman.  Week one of the regular season is mercifully upon us and the Washington Redskins are ready to unleash the defense, explode on offense, and take on the Houston Texans this Sunday at 1 pm.  It’s a battle of two beleaguered NFL franchises that finished next to last and dead last, respectively. The proverbial “toilet bowl”, if you will.

Well, not really.

Both teams made significant improvements to their roster and coaching staff this past offseason and do not figure to be the “easy W’s” they were just a short ten months ago.  We all know about the Redskins roster improvements: the splash additions of DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, and Jason Hatcher; the conservative but conscious special teams-improving signings of such names as Adam Hayward and Akeem Jordan.

What have the Houston Texans done to improve upon their last place finish? Quite a few things, actually.

With three weeks remaining in the season, Houston fired their eight-year head coach Gary Kubiak after a dismal 2-11 start to their season.  While defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over the head coaching duties for the remainder of the season, it was clear that the Texans would be looking elsewhere to cement their top position for the foreseeable years ahead.

It didn’t take long for Houston to find their man as Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien was introduced on Jan. 2.  O’Brien was a coordinator under Bill Belichick in New England, and after taking the job at Penn State in 2012, found himself in a whirlwind of controversy following the Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno allegations.

The college was sanctioned with a four-year postseason ban and lost 40 scholarships over the same period.  O’Brien stood by the program and committed to rebuilding it, which he did and left the program in a much better place only two years removed from the biggest scandal in college football history.

It also didn’t hurt the Texans’ chances of luring O’Brien knowing they had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Without hesitation, Houston selected Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end from South Carolina.  Clowney brings a combination at a pass rush of size and speed that is rare in the NFL.  The Texans moved him to the 3-4 outside linebacker spot, but will look to have Clowney rushing the passer on almost every down along with J.J. Watt, the NFL’s now most highly paid defensive player ever.

On the other side of the ball, Houston will be starting the season with veteran Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been mostly mediocre throughout his career.  They aren’t without weapons though. Wide receiver Andre Johnson and a finally healthy Arian Foster at running back will still give defenses fits throughout the season.  Houston traded for New England backup Ryan Mallett late last week, but the earliest he figures to be ready to go would be week four, perhaps earlier if Fitzpatrick completely falls on his face.

Now, let’s discuss the factors that need to fall in place in order for the Redskins to secure a win and start the season 1-0:

Keys to the game

2012 RGIII, please

In week one of his rookie season, Robert Griffin III produced “shock and awe” as Redskins fans, and the entire league, witnessed a dynamic player playing in an innovative offense they had never seen in the league before.  Griffin went on to have an historic 2012 rookie campaign, before injuring his knee and suffering from controversies ever since.  The narrative this offseason has been “mold this guy into a pocket passer, and do it now.”  But he just isn’t right now.

Griffin needs to be presented as a run threat in order for the Redskins to move the ball against Houston.  Employing the read-option 10-12 percent of the time will open up throwing lanes for Griffin to get the ball out quickly to his receivers.  It will also open up huge holes for Alfred Morris like it did in 2012, you know, when the offensive line looked like The Hogs again.

If Gruden wants to continue to try and fit a square peg in a round hole with Griffin, it will be a long game and season. Of course, there are other issues that could prevent him from employing this type of offense. But expect Gruden to roll out an offense that was not even hinted at in the first three preseason games. “Operation Possum” indeed.

Stuff the Run

Make Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Houston offense one-dimensional.  If the Redskins can contain Arian Foster early, they will force the Texans throw the ball often, and that is when Washington’s improved pass rush can force Fitzpatrick into mistakes.  The secondary, though facing many question marks still, is a play-making one and will make plays on the ball if underthrown or forced into coverage.  It’s about making the quarterback uncomfortable, but it will not happen if Houston can establish a solid running game.  Look for the Redskins defense to stack the box early as they will look to eliminate this threat.

Oh yeah, and then there’s THOSE guys

We discussed them earlier, but they’re worth mentioning again.  The Redskins offensive line will have their hands full with Clowney and Watt, no matter what the offense looks like on Sunday.  Just like with Arian Foster and the Texans, Alfred Morris and the Redskins need to establish a solid ground game first and foremost. If you get the new RGIII pocket passer into too many third-and-longs, Jadeveon and JJ are going to have a field day and it will not be a pretty sight on the Washington sideline.  Let Morris do what he does, and that’s pound through the defensive line and shed tackles.

OUR PREDICTIONS

Joe Ziegengeist:

I’m going with the Redskins in this one, but in a relatively low scoring affair.  I expect Gruden to employ some short screens, and even some read option, to help Griffin get comfortable while facing the threat of Watt and Clowney.  One touchdown from Griffin to Reed, one goal line rushing touchdown from Morris, and a late FG from Kai Forbath to put the game on ice.  Redskins 17 Texans 13

Dave Nichols:

The first-team offense’s struggles from the preseason will carry over and Houston’s defense dominates. The team made some upgrades at certain positions (I really like the Duke Ihenacho waiver-wire pickup last week), but they failed to address the offensive line in a meaningful way. I expect Watt and Clowney to have a field day.  Texans 24 Redskins 10

Joe Mercer:

The last time Ryan Fitzpatrick faced the Redskins, he was unconscious, going 21-of-27 for 262 yards, including a pair of touchdowns to tight end Scott Chandler in a 23-0 blowout.  He was also a Buffalo Bill then and the Redskins, well, they had John Beck behind center.  With the newly-acquired Ryan Mallett holding the clipboard for a while, the beleaguered Fitzpatrick, whose career has been a horror show since signing that ridiculous $59 million deal in Buffalo, will have to deal with a retooled and hungry Redskins defense.  Although the Redskins showed very little to get excited about this offseason, I expect Robert Griffin to prove the cynics wrong.  Combine a hungry Griffin with Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed and you’re going to see magic in 2014.  Redskins 24 Texans 13

Neil Dalal:

It is almost guaranteed to be a defensive stalemate as the bulk of the Texans talent resides on defense and they are shaky at quarterback.. The Redskins defense should be able to contain Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, the Texans lone offensive threats, for the most part. If Griffin can get time in the pocket to progress through his reads the many weapons around him should be able to beat the Texans above-average secondary. However, if Griffin is getting harassed by the like of Watt and Clowney throughout the game we will be seeing Griffin on his back more than on his feet. I believe Trent Williams will be able to hold his own and Gruden will scheme to give Polumbus help through tight end rubs and chips to give Polumbus a head start, then Griffin should be able to put up more points than a probably lacking Texans offense. Redskins 20 Texans 16

Justin Byram:

The Redskins D is solid and creates a few turnovers, the offense uses Alfred Morris early and often, RGIII gets comfortable and in a rhythm early throwing short easy passes before hitting Jackson on a deep ball.  Redskins 24 Texans 13

Joe Miller:

Washington’s passing offense struggles early thanks to Houston’s talented pass-rushers but the Redskins are eventually able to move the ball effectively, utilizing Alfred Morris and the zone run game. The revamped defense is able to stifle QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Texans’ offense despite their talented skill position players, and are able to force a couple turnovers.  Redskins 24 Texans 17

Eric Hobeck:

RGIII throws for a couple of touchdowns as Redskins fans start planning a February trip to Glendale.  Redskins 28 Texans 10

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