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Texans are 2-0, but defense a concern as Cowboys loom

There are intriguing matchups all over the Week 3 docket. The Lions and Vikings might be playing for their seasons. The Falcons are looking to show everyone they are a legit threat to win the NFC South crown as they face the defending champion Saints in New Orleans. The unbeaten Steelers and Buccaneers square off in Tampa (say what?).

Maybe the coolest game on the sked is the undefeated Texans hosting their I-45 rivals, the winless Cowboys. There are intriguing storylines from both a strategic and overall standpoint.

Are the Texans for real? Houston leaned on familiar faces (Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams) to beat Washington in overtime last week. The concern here is that the defense has to play better if Houston wants to avoid hovering around .500 again. Really, the Texans, as a whole, didn't look great against the Redskins. Coach Gary Kubiak said as much in his Monday press conference.

"Looking at the film, golly, it was not one of our better football games," Kubiak said. "But to still find a way to win, playing in a tough situation like that... that was impressive."

It might have been an impressive victory from a comeback standpoint, but Houston's secondary struggled mightily, and running back Arian Foster was mediocre (3.6 yards per rush). You have to give Kubiak credit, though, for using the word "golly."

Back to Schaub and Johnson. Schaub's 497 yards passing and Johnson's 12 catches were big-time numbers, but they're not going to repeat that against Dallas.
A. Schaub won't have the time.
B. Kubiak will stick with Foster.
C. The Texans should lean on their tight ends and backs as much as Johnson in the passing game.

Look for TE Owen Daniels to be a factor, as the Cowboys' Achilles heel on defense is at safety. Gerald Sensabaugh and the unproven Alan Ball don't exactly scare offensive coordinators.

Ryan's run at redemption

Matt Ryan sure didn't light it up this preseason, following a sophomore slump in 2009. On the road in Week 1, Ryan nearly lost the game in the fourth quarter by staring down Roddy White and getting picked off by Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu deep in Falcons territory.

Ryan can't do the same in New Orleans. The only healthy back the Falcons have is Jason Snelling, so "Matty Ice" is on thin ice. The Falcons should definitely run the rock, as both Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore were effective against the Saints the last two weeks.

Ryan can win this game by taking vertical shots off play action, while having enough judgment not to force the ball on third down. The Saints love to gamble on defense, so forcing throws is never a good idea. Think back to all the big plays they made off interceptions last season.

Speaking of, several analysts have pointed out this week how the Falcons, behind quarterback Chris Redman, should've beaten the Saints in Week 14 of last season when New Orleans was still unbeaten. That game was in Atlanta; this one is not.

Turnaround in Tampa

Take a wild guess which team hasn't allowed any points in the second half so far. Would you believe it's the Buccaneers?

Granted it was against Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore and then Jimmy Clausen. But it's still noteworthy and is the biggest reason why the Buccaneers are 2-0, more so than quarterback Josh Freeman.

Ronde Barber has been clutch, especially considering he's a 35-year old cornerback. This dude was making plays back when it was cool to listen to Creed. The 14-year vet has two interceptions already, both coming at critical times.

Can Tampa keep it up? Raheem Morris' crew plays the 31st-ranked Steelers offense, which will be led by Charlie Batch on Sunday. So you're saying there's a chance...

Off the cuff ...

» Need a good explanation for the Bears' 2-0 start? Check out Jay Cutler's fourth-quarter passer rating. How does 148.5 strike you?

» Miles Austin's 2009 campaign apparently was no fluke -- he leads the league with 288 receiving yards and is tied for tops with 20 catches.

» Minnesota's wideout tandem of Greg Lewis and Greg Camarillo remind me of when CBS replaced Bo and Luke on The Dukes of Hazzard with their cousins Coy and Vance. Man, that show really went downhill after that. Sidney Rice and the ghost of Bernard Berrian can't get back soon enough.

» The only battle of unbeatens on Sunday is the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers and the not-supposed-to-do-anything-this-year Buccaneers. This is Exhibit A of why the NFL is so popular.

» Earlier this week, I wrote about the Colts' defense and its ability to limit the big play. A lot of you out there chimed in about the Jets' defense being better overall. I agree. My point was that the Colts were best at limiting the quick strike and making teams work methodically down the field. It was a big reason they ended up in the Super Bowl. Enjoyed some of the comments.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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