Mark Sanchez's debut comes against a team searching for a new defensive identity. New defensive coordinator Frank Bush is installing a 4-3 under defense. He's never been a coordinator before so it's impossible to say exactly what his philosophy will be. He was a disciple of current Kansas City defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, a guy noted for attack schemes. You can assume Houston will be aggressive, attempting to attack and confuse a rookie quarterback.
There's a lot of uncertainty at cornerback for the Texans. At his best, Dunta Robinson is a lockdown corner. He looked a bit rusty last season, returning midyear from a torn ACL. He also held out until Sunday over a contract dispute, skipping all of training camp and preseason. It's tough to say how much this will hurt. Cornerback is a position where it's easy to jump right in and play well. Think of the way Darrelle Revis jumped right in and played at a high level after a holdout two years ago. Will Robinson be able to do the same. One figures they'll stick him on an island on Jerricho Cotchery a lot, take away Sanchez's best target, and force secondary players to get open.
Another key matchup will be Dustin Keller against Brian Cushing. The system Bush installed requires the strongside backer to be able to play man coverage against the tight end in addition to blitz and get off blocks in run support. Cushing is extremely athletic. His ability to hang with Keller will be critical for Houston's success against the pass.
The rest of Houston's pass defense is unproven. Starter Jacques Reeves will miss the game with a leg injury, leaving Fred Bennett, Glover Quin and Antwaun Moldin to match up against David Clowney and Chansi Stuckey. This might be one of the few matchups in the early going where one could argue the Jets have a slight edge. Domonique Barber and Nick Ferguson will start at safety for Houston.
Houston will look to generate pressure and force Sanchez to make quick decisions. The key matchup on the line will be between a pair of 2006 top five picks, Mario Williams and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Williams posted 12 sacks a year ago. The rest of the defensive line provides more questions than answers. His fellow end, Antonio Smith, is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher. He'll probably give way to rookie Connor Barwin on third down. The Texans are still waiting on Amobi Okoye to develop into a force on the line. The new system will likely give him more of a chance to work one on one and try to penetrate than he has in the past. Thus far, the youngster is still a work in progress (but still has plenty of time to get better at 22). DelJuan Robinson, Shaun Cody, and Frank Okam will likely rotate at tackle and aren't distinguished pass rushers.
With the Texans expected to attack, a first time starting quarterback, and a newfound devotion to Leon Washington, this would seem like a great game to utilize a lot of screens. They're high percentage throws that will help Sanchez get into the flow of the game and build his confidence. They will allow the playmaker to make a play. This could create a compelling Washington-DeMeco Ryans matchup in space.
I am optimistic. Last year opposing quarterbacks posted a 92 rating against the Texans. They changed the scheme, but they might not have the horses to successfully play the pass, especially with a starting corner out. David Clowney has been burned backups for two years in preseason. He'll have the chance to go to work against second tier players again.