- Redskins.com's Andrew Walker breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Texans 2014 season-opening showdown at NRG Stadium.*
"Redskins-Texans: 4 Keys To The Game" is presented by Papa John's.
Every Monday, fans can order a large cheese pizza for only $9.99, plus for each touchdown that the Redskins score, fans get one free topping. And with a Redskins victory, fans get double the toppings.
GET THE BUTTERFLIES OUT
The Washington Redskins on Sunday travel to Houston to open up the 2014 season with a matchup against the Texans at NRG Stadium. You can bet that everybody – from those on the Redskins' 53-man roster, to the coaching staff, to the team's millions of dedicated fans – will be experiencing butterflies in the hours, minutes and seconds leading to kickoff.
It'll be exciting for everybody to see how the team tries to set their tone and establish their identities on offense, defense and on special teams. For the guys currently on the roster who were on the team in 2013, they want to show that they've moved on and are ready to play a better, more consistent brand of football. For those who are new to the team this season, they want to show their teammates, coaches and fans exactly how impactful they can be for the squad.
Then there's guys like Will Compton, a linebacker who went undrafted last season out of Nebraska and has defied the odds to make the Redskins' 53-man roster this season. Compton said he got a majority of his butterflies out this offseason and into the preseason, as he battled to survive and do what he needed to do to make the team. Now that he's on the roster, Compton said he can't wait to experience a different kind of butterflies on Sunday.
"Now that we're in season, come Sunday, it'll be more like, 'I'm out here for my opening game, opening day, kickoff,' things like that," Compton said. "So I think I'll be excited more than anything."
J.J. AND JADEVEONJ.J. Watt didn't really need another reason to get amped up for Sunday's season opener against the Redskins, but that's exactly what he got Tuesday when he signed a six-year contract extension reportedly worth $100 million. You know the two-time first-team All Pro defensive end and 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year will be ready to go.
Then there's rookie outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans' No. 1-overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, who, at just age 21, is expected to make an immediate impact on the Houston defense. A 2012 unanimous All-American out of South Carolina, Clowney made several impact plays for the Texans in the preseason before missing the team's third game with an undisclosed injury.
Many expect the Texans to move Watt and Clowney around the entire season to try to take advantage of any and all possible advantages. It's a safe bet both will likely be lined up against Redskins left tackle Trent Williams at some point during Sunday's game, and the two-time Pro Bowler said this week he's ready for the challenge.
"Obviously J.J. Watt is probably a premiere D-End in the league – you could argue to say he's the best," Williams said. "He's definitely going to be a tough matchup for whoever gets him. They have a great group of guys up front. I think their front seven is probably the strength of that whole team. We have our work cut out for us."
Sunday's game will likely give quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Redskins' offense plenty of early opportunities to see how effective their play action, screen plays and quick-hitter routes are working. These plays, if successful, could set the tone for either a deep attack with Pierre Garçon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, or a pound-it-out rushing approach with Alfred Morris.
THE OLD FOSTER?Texans running back Arian Foster last year underwent season-ending back surgery halfway through the schedule, and, as a precaution, sat out the team's four preseason games this year. Back injuries can obviously be tricky, so even though Foster has been able to fully practice the past three weeks, many people – especially those on the Texans and Redskins sidelines – are wondering how Foster will look in his first game action in months.
If he's the old Foster, then the Redskins have a menace on their hands. Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing champion, is a three-time Pro Bowler who, since 2009, has racked up 5,063 yards, 45 rushing touchdowns and seven receiving touchdowns. He's also averaged 4.5 yards per carry over that span, including a 4.9 yards-per-carry average in 2010, when he ran for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns.
To counteract, the Redskins' defense is hoping to build off the momentum they established stopping the run this preseason. They finished fifth in the league in rushing defense, holding opponents to only 84.2 yards per game on the ground. That included their third game against the Baltimore Ravens, who had the best running attack in the NFL this preseason at 171 yards per game. The Redskins held the Ravens to just 82 yards on the ground.
Yes, it is just the preseason, but the Redskins' defense is a confident bunch heading into Sunday's game, and stopping Foster will certainly be one of their main priorities.
GRUDEN'S DEBUTThe Jay Gruden era for the Redskins officially begins Sunday against the Texans.
Check out action shots of the Washington Redskins' active roster as of Sept. 16, 2014.
Gruden, hired in January to replace Mike Shanahan, has spent the past seven-plus months evaluating and shuffling his new roster, watching film and developing game strategies with his assistant coaches and coordinators. After getting the chance to get his feet wet in the preseason, Gruden this week is getting his first chance to install a complete gameplan for an opponent, and then see how that plan plays out in front of what's sure to be a loud Texans crowd that's trying to do everything it can to help their defense.
If the Redskins win on Sunday, Gruden will be the 11th head coach in franchise history to pull off a victory in his Washington debut, joining Eddie Casey (1935), Arthur "Dutch" Bergman (1943), Dick Todd (1951), Earl "Curly" Lambeau (1952), Vince Lombardi (1969), George Allen (1971), Jack Pardee (1978), Richie Petitbon (1993), Steve Spurrier (2002) and Shanahan (2010).
Overall, the men who have served as head coach of the Redskins are a combined 10-14-3 in their head coaching debuts with the franchise. Gruden also looks to become the first Redskins head coach to lead his team to the playoffs in his debut season since Allen accomplished that feat in 1971, when his Redskins team finished 9-4-1 and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.