- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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How will the Washington Redskins slow J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? All we really know about Clowney in the NFL, considering he played so little this summer, is that he's an athletic freak. He'll be facing an athletic tackle in Trent Williams and it's a matchup the Redskins need him to control so they can focus on stopping Watt. The problem with Watt is that he'll line up in a few different places and is an excellent inside rusher. The Redskins have not protected well from the interior. They can't afford many one-on-one battles against him -- not if they want Robert Griffin III to have much time in the pocket.
How much will Washington's offense change? Yes, it was vanilla in the preseason just like every other team in the NFL. But there's still a mystery to it because this is Jay Gruden's first season as a head coach and because it's hard to imagine him only having Robert Griffin III be a drop-back passer. Neither Griffin nor the line is built to win that way consistently. But how, exactly, will Gruden use Griffin? We did not see a lot of zone read this summer (two years ago we saw lots of read options in camp). But it may well be they need to use it because it has been an effective part of the offense the past two seasons (averaged 5.33 yards per zone read run in 2013, for example).
Who will replace Brandon Meriweather? Certainly seems that Bacarri Rambo will be the guy for the opener at least. He knows the defense and can play both spots, allowing Ryan Clark to sometimes come down in the box, too. I would not want Clark down there too often, just from a durability standpoint. It's hard to imagine Duke Ihenacho knowing the defense enough to warrant starting. It's a different defense than what he's accustomed to, not only in coverages but in terms of where he fits against the run. But, long-term, it could be Ihenacho or even Phillip Thomas replacing Meriweather should this happen again. Thomas just has to stay healthy while working on the practice squad.
How good is Houston's offensive line? That will be a key to this game so it's worth wondering about. Two years ago the Texans sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl after a 12-4 season. They were excellent not only in protection but in opening up cutback lanes for Arian Foster. Last year, though, Foster suffered a season-ending back injury. And the tackles, Duane Brown, and Derek Newton, dealt with their own injuries. The result? A bad season. But the line is supposedly healthy. If that's the case it'll be a good first test for the Redskins' line -- and their new-look pass rush.
How will they handle Andre Johnson and Foster? For starters, Foster was held out of the preseason to protect him after his back injury. But he will play Sunday -- and the Redskins' improved tackling and faster defense will get a good immediate test. If they don't pursue well, Foster will make them pay. As for Johnson, they will not use DeAngelo Hall on him at all times, instead keeping the corners to their respective side. It's an indication of David Amerson's growth entering his second season. It's a good challenge for him. Johnson caught 109 passes last season, but only five for touchdowns. But: don't sleep on receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is not a fast player but runs excellent routes, has long arms and is a hard runner after the catch. He finished with 802 receiving yards as a rookie last season -- playing with bad quarterbacks.