Know Your Enemy: Week 1, Houston Texans

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bolts from the Blue kicks off a series of "Know Your Enemy", which gives you a detailed scouting report on each team the San Diego Chargers will face in 2013.

New Head Coach Mike McCoy will kick off his first regular season with the San Diego Chargers against a stacked Houston Texans team on Monday Night Football.

Matchup History

The Chargers are 4-0 all time against the Texans, having last faced them in 2010. The Chargers won that game by a score of 29-23, despite a Special Teams unit that looked more like a Pop Warner team than a group of professional football players. Here's the post game thread of guys ripping on the special teams. Funny stuff.

The 2012 Texans and the 2013 Offseason

Here's a spreadsheet/breakdown of how the Texans roster was assembled. I personally picked the Texans to reach the AFC Championship game last year, and will probably do the same thing again this year.

They made an offseason splash by signing Ed Reed, although I'm not so sure that's much of an upgrade from what they had last year. Other key newcomers include fullback Greg Jones, punter Shane Lechler, and 1st round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins, a very savvy rookie wide receiver who's expected to come in and take the burden off of Andre Johnson.

When you go 12-4, there's not very many holes to fill on your roster. However, the Texans will get their real defensive MVP back, and arguably one of the better downhill/attacking inside linebackers, in Brian Cushing. The Chargers will have their hands full against this defense.

The Texans cruised through the majority of the 2012 season before stumbling into the playoffs. Even though the score was 19-13, it felt like they beat the Bengals in the Wild Card game handily. The Divisional Playoff game wouldn't be as easy. The Texans hung in tough through the first half, but the Patriots pulled away in the 2nd half and ended up winning 41-28.

Predictions

This is next segment we'll change up from week to week so we get new guys giving their opinion. I wouldn't want you to be stuck with my blind optimism for 16 games, or the fearless leader predicting we'll get blown out each game, either.

This week, Jerome and I will give you our predictions on what we expect to happen, and what it'll take for the Chargers to beat the Texans. If the Chargers want to make the playoffs, these are the quality opponents they'll play.

Kyle's Take

It's easy to simply say the Chargers will lose because it's week 1, new coach, new scheme, and they're still learning everything. That's fair, to a point. I simply think talent will take over, and the Chargers won't be able to get the stops needed in order to win.

Remember Wade Philips? Those days were fun. Philips' attacking 3-4, in which he blitzes the outside linebackers on just about every play, should give the Chargers offensive line fits. What that does is allow the Texans to get a lot of 1-on-1 looks, and get creative all along the defensive front.

This will also be the first game for the revamped right side of the line for the Chargers. Their first test? This guy named JJ Watt. Fact: JJ Watt is good at football. The Chargers offense will see a lot of man to man coverage, and they will have to win those match-ups if they hope to win the game. They also can't fall behind. When the Texans get a lead, they crank up the pass rush and are very tough to beat.

The Chargers will also have the task of stopping superstar running back Arian Foster, as well as Johnson on the outside. I understand it's a totally new setting but last year, when he was primarily matched up against Johnson, new starting corner Derek Cox gave up 11 catches for 135 yards to Johnson. Ouch.

Houston also has one of the better run games in football, anchored by (in my opinion) the best left tackle in football. This'll be a huge test for the Chargers defense. They'll have to shut down the run without bringing heavy pressure to allow 1-on-1's on the outside. Johnson vs. anyone 1-on-1 is an advantage for the Texans. San Diego's goal should be to eliminate big plays altogether and force Schaub to beat them.

The Chargers' best bet is to spread out their offense, much like the Patriots did last year. Problem is, the Chargers' offensive line pales in comparison to the Patriots'. I predict 27-17, Texans, with a big day from Foster and a few deep play action passes to hurt the Chargers. I do expect the Chargers to be able to move the ball, but I think Houston's defense will have a few drive killing sacks/turnovers.

Jerome's Take

The Chargers opening day hopes for a win hang on the shoulders of one guy: Wade Phillips. Wade Phillips and his 3-4 defense is unique in the way he approaches matchups and mismatches. If Wade has an oasis of playmakers at his disposal, which he does in Houston, you'll see him playing chess with the opposing offense, the way an innovative offensive mind would if given a shiny new toy.

Where the season opener will be lost for the San Diego Chargers is in the trenches. This is where Wade Phillips' best chess piece resides, the "queen" if you will. The traditional 3-4 Defensive Coordinator requires their Defensive Ends to be able to hold two-gaps first, but Wade rejects this notion. If he has a great DE capable of doing multiple assignments, he gives them one-gap, because rushing the QB is his primary goal. He only gives them two gaps if they are incapable of consistently getting after the QB (Luis Castillo, for example).

It is backwards in philosophy, yet fun for the linemen in it, and every bit as confusing for offensive lineman who practice against it and assume down lineman in a 3-4 are only "holding their ground".

"We try to get our best players one on one as much as we can.. You're not going to get guys free all of the time. You try to get matchups. Put them on guys that you think they match up well with.. J.J., if we can just keep someone else off of him, he's got a chance to make plays.." - Wade Phillips, explaining why his 3-4 defense isn't like others

With the San Diego Chargers due to employ a new right side of the line - one featuring a rookie and a Right Guard sure to be just as raw at the position, this is what scares me the most. You can almost guarantee J.J. Watt will be aligned anywhere from a 2 tech to a 5 tech (English Translation: Lined up everywhere from Jeromey Clary's left eye to D.J. Fluker's right eye). Expect Wade to keep Watt there for long periods of time as they'll be looking to see how well Clary can get out of his stance and re-anchor, how well Fluker responds to being the covered lineman and confusing the two by deploying Watt out of the 4i Tech and stunting linebackers behind him, whenever he feels it's necessary.

If any of the aforementioned situations occur consistently, we are looking at a long day for Philip Rivers's open side on passing downs. It'll be imperative that the Chargers keep the game close and not have to resort to open sets or 7-man protection sets as a way to offset Wade's attacking 3-4 defense.

What's your prediction?

The two of us seem to think the Texans will beat the Chargers for the first time in franchise history. San Diego doesn't have to play a perfect game to win, but they have to be almost perfect. Let us know in the comments below how you think the game will go, as well as what you think the keys will be to winning and losing for the Chargers.

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