After an off-season that saw the firing of GM A.J. Smith and Head Coach Norv Turner, the San Diego Chargers and their new additions are ready to forget their mediocre ways and play in their home opener with a clean slate.
After drafting college sensation LB Manti Te’o, former Colt DE Dwight Freeney and adding former Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy as Head Coach, the Chargers look primed for a great season on defense after a great season against the run.
However, walking through the visitors tunnel will be the 12-4 Texans from Houston with an extremely potent offense and decently consistent defense.
With that in mind, this season’s first Monday Night Football game of the season should be exciting (if you’re up that late to watch it).
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
When: Monday, Sept. 9 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Game Rewind
What’s at Stake
Although this game isn’t an inter-AFC clash, the Texans and Chargers are going to be playing for their lives. This prime-time game determines whether San Diego/Houston goes into week 2 1-0 or 0-1, a big factor when starting out the season. For the Texans an undefeated season could be at stake here, especially with the amount of talent on this team in Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Meanwhile for the Chargers, what is at stake is the opportunity for a fresh start (might as well call these Chargers the Fabreeze Brothers) after 3 straight seasons without a playoff appearance. In reality, what is at stake the first week of the NFL season is the chance to prove that the months and months of off-season workouts, acquisitions and preseason exhibition games were somehow actually worth it. Does this game have playoff implications? Most likely not, but for the Texans the outcome could be a sign of bigger and better things to come.
Texans Players to Watch
Coming off a 1,424 yard, 15 touchdown season, all eyes in Houston will be on Arian Foster this season after having lingering calf and back injuries during the entire preseason. Considering he is one of the most productive backs in the past 3 seasons, it would be a shame for his injuries to limit his play in the season opener. And even though Houston Coach Gary Kubiak stated that Foster won’t be a “30-carry guy on opening night”, Foster will still be as effective as he was last season and in the case his injuries do catch up with him, Matt Schaub and the Texans’ passing game should have no problem filling the hole that Foster would be leaving behind.
Along with Foster, the play of 1st round draft pick WR DeAndre Hopkins should be closely monitored next Monday Night. After catching 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns his junior year at Clemson, Hopkins looks primed for prime-time. As well, with the veteran direction of Andre Johnson (112 receptions, 1,598 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2012) and Owen Daniels (716 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2012), Hopkins should learn and fit in perfectly with Houston’s offense and perhaps have the same effect on Houston’s offense that Julio Jones had on Atlanta’s offense. Monday night could be a breakout game for the rookie and if things turn out for the better, could be a sign of a very illustrious career for the former Tiger.
Chargers Player to Watch
As the leader of this Charger’s offense for the past 7 years, Rivers has been to death and back. If there is anybody who needs a clean start after last season, it’s Philip Rivers. After 28 turnovers and only 225 yards per game last season, San Diego and especially Head Coach Mike McCoy are expecting way better play out of Rivers, especially after a 2 year period from 2010-2011 that featured Rivers throwing for over 4,600 yards and 27 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. The key for Rivers in this Monday Night home opener is to show Charger fans that he is still the leader of this team and can beat just about anybody in the AFC, including the Texans. If Rivers can throw the ball accurately and not turn it over, perhaps the Bolts could end up with a W.
Matchup to Watch
Although DE Corey Liuget is only 23, he is still a force to be wreckoned with on this Chargers defensive line. The former first round pick out of Illinois sacked opposing QBs 7 times and defended 9 passes at the line last season. Playing against 11 year Texan’s DT Wade Smith, the young Liuget will have to step up and penetrate the stout Texans offensive line. Look for this match-up to dictate the Texan’s running game and whether or not Houston will utilize Arian Foster as well as they’d like.
Although the Chargers do have home field advantage, the Texans all around have a more well-rounded team. Keeping in mind that the Chargers running game is as potent as a lazy cat swatting at a butterfly on the porch on a hot summer day, the Texans can really make some damage by rushing defensive behemoth J.J. Watt against the weak and inexperienced San Diego offensive line. As well, the Chargers receiving corps is without some key components. With Danario Alexander cut and Eddie Royal questionable with a bruised lung the Chargers are really looking for Antonio Gates or Malcom Floyd to really step up. Unfortunately, the Texans pass and rush defense is just too dominant for the Bolts to handle and thus, in the first prime-time game of the season, it will be Texans on top of the Chargers.