The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) will look to make it a two-game road winning streak when they face the Houston Texans (0-2) Sunday afternoon. Here are a few individual matchups that could play a key role in determining the outcome of this showdown in Houston:
RT Gosder Cherilus vs. DE J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt has averaged more than 17 sacks per season over the last three years and comes into this game with three sacks in his first two games. Watt is able to line up and get to the QB from any position on the defensive line, but it is likely that Cherilus will draw the assignment frequently. Cherilus, a former Indianapolis Colt, will have to draw on his previous experience fending off Watt and hold his ground whether he is teaming up with a TE or rookie RG Ali Marpet, or taking on Watt one-on-one.
WR Mike Evans vs. CB Kareem Jackson
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins leads the team with 10 targets, 139 yards and two touchdowns, but with the big TE not having practiced so far this week, his targets may very well go to someone else. Evans will be playing in his second game after being eased back into the action last week. This week, working against Houston's Jackson, Evans should see more opportunities to begin his quest for a second-straight 1,000-yard season.
QB Jameis Winston vs. DE Jadeveon Clowney
While Watt has three of the Texans' four sacks, the Bucs' offense must also contend with Clowney, another sizable pass rushing-threat often coming from the other side. Pro Football Focus has credited Clowney with six QB hurries in the first two games of the season. Winston has been sacked seven times this season, but looked much more poised under pressure last week in the win over New Orleans, in which he put up 207 yards and a touchdown through the air and also scored once on the ground. He'll need to keep his composure and connect with his big targets against a defense allowing 219 passing yards per game.
QB Ryan Mallett vs. DE Jacquies Smith
After a three-sack performance in New Orleans, Smith leads the NFL in sacks with four on the season. This week he faces a Texans' front that has allowed six on the year. Smith will look to add to his sack total (and his impressive/NFL-leading two forced fumbles) against Mallett, who is making just his fourth NFL start this week.
G Brandon Brooks vs. DT Gerald McCoy
Gerald McCoy, who has two sacks of his own this season, is the perfect inside compliment to Smith, more often than not taking on double teams from the O-line interior. PFF ranks Brooks as the Texans' highest-graded offensive player so far this season and the fifth-highest rated guard in the league. McCoy also plays a key role stuffing the middle in the run game, which brings us to our final key matchup.
LB Kwon Alexander vs. Houston RBs
Houston has rushed the ball just 44 times for 159 yards (ranking 25th and 24th in the league, respectively). Chris Polk has gotten the majority of the work with 19 rushes for 60 yards, followed by Alfred Blue (14, 48) and Jonathan Grimes (8, 35, DNP in Thursday's practice). The question is whether or not All-Pro running back Arian Foster will play his first game of the season this week after missing the first two weeks with a groin injury. He was a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday. The Bucs defense (led in tackles by Alexander and LB Lavonte David with 13 each) has allowed 114 rushing yards per game and three scores on the ground. The Bucs defense could have their second-straight upset week if Alexander and Co. can control this run game and force the young quarterback to stand up in a closing pocket and win with his arm.