By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Houston Texans kick off the 2018 regular season with a lot of the same weapons they started with last year. But they also bring some key new faces to Sunday’s Week 1 showdown with the Patriots.
It’s well established that the Texans boast a ferocious front-seven, headlined by the dangerous trio of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus. And what hasn’t been said about quarterback Deshaun Watson and receiver DeAndre Hopkins at this point? The purpose of this list is to spotlight the guys who are in their first seasons in a Texans uniform. One of them is a rookie.
However, one particular name should already be familiar to you if you’ve been following the NFC West in recent years. Here’s a quick look at five Texans to know before Sunday.
S Tyrann Mathieu
Houston’s biggest offseason addition, Mathieu was released by the Arizona Cardinals after the two sides couldn’t agree on a restructured contract. He ultimately signed a one-year deal with the Texans worth up to $7 million, your classic Prove-It Deal™. The 26-year-old Mathieu hasn’t been the same “Honey Badger” who earned All-Pro honors in 2015, tearing his ACL near the end of that season and losing six games to a shoulder injury in 2016. But he did play all 16 games in 2017 for the Cardinals, and ultimately got released after the team asked him to take a pay cut.
Now, Mathieu adds a dimension of skill and physicality (if he’s at his best) to the third level of a Texans defense that already has plenty of it at the first two. He’s only 5-foot-9, but his style could suit him in a potential matchup against Rob Gronkowski. Even if he’s not the ideal personnel, he may be the Texans’ best hope of slowing Gronk down.
“He’s a ball hawk,” Gronkowski said of Mathieu during his Tuesday presser. “He can get to the ball, reads the quarterback well and you’ve got to be ready at all times because when the ball’s in the air, he’s going for it, too.”
Sunday will be the first indication if Mathieu is back to his 2015 form. Tom Brady will certainly want to know where he is on every play.
TE Jordan Akins
Ryan Griffin is the incumbent starter for the Texans at tight end, but he’s never been a big receiving threat. Akins represents perhaps the Texans’ best opportunity for Watson to get the ball into a tight end’s hands. NFL.com projected him as a late-round pick or UDFA, but the Texans ended up taking him in the third round in 2018, which shows their confidence in the uncommonly “old” rookie – he turned 26 years old in April.
Akins may not be high on the Texans’ list of weapons. But if the Patriots’ cornerbacks are locking the receivers down, that could create a chance for Akins to make some plays. Patrick Chung could be key to slowing him down if the rookie starts getting extensive looks on offense.
Gs Senio Telemete and Zach Fulton
The Texans don’t have a ton of glaring weaknesses, but the offensive line could be it. They have three new projected starters on the O-line, and while they’re all veterans, none of them would qualify as high-end, game-changing kinds of talents.
Telemete is a versatile G/T who played the past four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He played in all 16 games in 2017, but only started eight of them. Fulton, meanwhile, started 12 of 15 games for the Kansas City Chiefs last year.
Despite the presence of second-year center Nick Martin anchoring the middle of the Texans’ O-line, their offensive interior looks like a group that could have trouble with the Patriots’ deep, revamped defensive line.
T Seantrel Henderson
Speaking of trouble … Henderson arrives in Houston having appeared in just eight games (one start) for the Buffalo Bills in the past two seasons combined. He’s had a variety of issues during his career, most recently a 10-game suspension last year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. And after all that, he’s entrenched as the Texans’ starting right tackle.
Henderson will likely spend a lot of time matched up against Trey Flowers, who’s healthy and ready to go for the season opener. This could end up being the biggest mismatch in the whole game. Fortunately for the Texans, Watson has the mobility to elude pressure and escape the pocket when plays break down. But with this offensive line against the Patriots’ improved front-seven, breakdowns could take place.
Coming on Friday: the key players for the Patriots to watch for in the season opener.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.