Texans-Cardinals: Five matchups to watch

Texans-Cardinals: Five matchups to watch
November 9, 2013, 4:00 pm
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Johnson looks to make difference for Texans

The Texans (2-6) are in Arizona to take on the Cardinals (4-4) on Sunday afternoon. Here are five matchups to keep an eye on as the game unfolds.

1. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson

Fitzgerald is very good. Since he entered the league in 2004 only two receivers have had more yards: Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson.

“Great hand-eye coordination,” Joseph said of Fitzgerald. “He can go up and get any ball. He’s never really covered just because the quarterback kind of gives him a chance to go up and make a play on the ball at all times.”

Fitzgerald’s numbers have been down since the beginning of last season but that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a receiver. It’s probably more of a product of his surroundings. Joseph and Jackson will likely split time against Fitzgerald, often in man coverage, so it’ll be important to watch.

2. Andre Johnson vs. Patrick Peterson

This might not be the most important matchup of its kind on Sunday but it’s the most fun to watch. Here are two of the game’s best going at it.

Johnson said this season has been very tough on him as the Texans have a 2-6 record. But Johnson has been doing his part. He has 57 catches for 813 yards and three touchdowns this year through eight games.

Meanwhile, rookie DeAndre Hopkins has a chance to do some damage against the other cornerback, Jerraud Powers, who has struggled this season.

3. Andre Ellington vs. ILBs

Rashard Mendenhall will get the start at running back for the Cardinals on Sunday, which is a little peculiar. Ellington, the rookie, had a breakout performance last week, running 15 times for 154 yards and a touchdown.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said he still wanted to get Ellington around 20 touches, which is a really high number for a backup. If he gets that, it’s very possible he’ll touch the ball more than Mendenhall.

The Texans’ run defense isn’t the same with Brian Cushing out. In his place, Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays will try to fill in. Those two will need to keep the rookie in check.  

4. J.J. Watt vs. Paul Fanaika

Yeah, Watt’s statistics this season don’t compare to the ones he put up last year but that doesn’t mean he’s not disruptive as ever. Watt still has the ability to completely wreck and offensive gameplan and he’ll likely do that if the Cardinals try to stop him with Fanaika.

Fanaika is the sixth worst guard in football, according to ProFootballFocus, with a grade of -15.0. He’ll need help on Sunday.

“They can do a couple of different things,” Watt said. “They have a couple of running backs that can run well. Obviously, Larry Fitzgerald’s a fantastic wide receiver. They can get the ball to him. There are a few different things that they do. But from my perspective, it’s always what we do. It’s always you need to focus on what you do as a defensive. Like I’ve said too many times, we need to get takeaways. We need to continue to do that.”

5. Ben Tate vs. Arizona run defense

Tate will get the start this week because Arian Foster is out with a back injury. Foster left the last game after just one series. Tate will play for the second straight week with four cracked ribs. He had a solid game last week, rushing 22 times for 81 yards.

“Well, Ben Tate, I told him he’s a tough son of a gun,” Phillips said. “He was really sore Monday and he had about 80 yards in the game. He’s got four cracked ribs. I asked him Monday, ‘You going to be OK?’ He said, ‘I’ll be there.’ I have a lot of confidence in him and that he’s going to play hurt, not injured. If he could get injured form that, bad injury, we wouldn’t play him. But is a situation where you can play and he did it. Some guys wouldn’t. I’ve had players; I’ve had really star players not play with ribs before. I commend him.”

Tate will be a big key this week because Arizona has been very tough on the run, giving up the fourth fewest yards per game (88.3) in the NFL. The offensive line will have a tough test against Darnell Docket and the line. Really, the entire Cardinals’ front seven is very tough.