This week the 3-6 Oakland Raiders go head-to-head with the 2-7 Houston Texans.
A game between two non-contenders won’t typically generate a lot of buzz, but this matchup has no shortage of interesting storylines.
The Texans had sky-high expectations leading into the year, but they have fallen remarkably short as they are currently riding a seven-game losing streak: the longest in the history of their franchise.
You can find a statistical breakdown of the matchup here, but in this post I will be highlighting a few matchups worth keeping an eye on this Sunday.
Matt McGloin vs. Houston Defense
With Raiders starting QB Terrelle Pryor nursing a sprained MCL suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles, undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin is in line for his first NFL start.
An inspiring story, to say the least, of a young quarterback who has repeatedly overcome the odds and made his own success.
Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen had this to say when asked about McGloin:
Listen, when he first got here he was just a camp arm, and he’s just gone about his business on a day-in and day-out basis and never has really let anything affect him. Early on he wasn’t getting a whole lot of reps, and he just kept working his way up.
All of that aside, it’s now time for Matt McGloin to showcase what he can do.
The Texans’ linebacking corps is fairly weak when forced in to coverage, especially since ILB Brian Cushing went on season-ending IR.
I would look for the Raiders to take full advantage of that with a plethora of quick-strike passes and screens, which should also help McGloin build his confidence.
Tony Pashos (and company) vs. J.J. Watt
With Matt McGloin under center, this very well could be the most important matchup of them all.
Keeping him clean will be a huge key to his ability to have success.
J.J. Watt is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL; amazingly versatile, excels equally in run-stopping and pass-rushing, and a strong leader to boot.
He is everything you want in a defensive player.
A player like that is sure to be double-teamed for the majority of the game, but the responsibility will fall primarily on Raiders right tackle Tony Pashos.
Pashos excelled as a pass blocker early in the year, but has struggled as a run blocker.
I would look for the Raiders to do their best to avoid Watt in the run game either way; the rest of the Texans’ defensive front has been less effective in stopping opposing rushing attacks.
In the passing game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeron Mastrud’s snap count spike up, since he is the strongest pass blocker of Oakland’s young group of tight ends; and against Watt, you just have to use everything at your disposal to try and slow him down.
Jason Tarver vs. Case Keenum
It’s common knowledge that the best way to have success on defense is to create pressure on the quarterback.
This is particularly true against young quarterbacks like the Texans’ Case Keenum.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, 3 out of the Texans’ 5 starting offensive linemen grade negatively as pass blockers, and Keenum’s grade also suffers significantly when he’s blitzed or pressured.
It will be up to Jason Tarver exploit them at their weakest points.
While Keenum has yet to throw an interception, he has fumbled the ball 3 times in as many starts. He also tends to give up a lot of yardage when he is sacked; over 11 yards each, on average.
I would expect Tarver to do what he does best: disguising coverages and bringing pressure from unexpected places.
With so many different pass-rushers at their disposal and a savvy, veteran secondary, I wouldn’t be surprised if Raiders are the team who is able to rattle the young Keenum and force him into a mistake or two.