Although Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans is a homecoming for the eight Seahawks players who hail from the Lone Star state, Houston’s Reliant Field is far from the cozy confines of CenturyLink Stadium, where Seattle has cruised to two straight wins. In fact, the 2-1 Texans represent the toughest test yet for the undefeated Seahawks as they look for their first 4-0 start in franchise history.
"This game's going to be a huge game,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said this week. “It's one of the teams that obviously a quote-un-quote Super Bowl contender and is a team that's got a lot of talent and everything."
That talent starts with the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end J.J. Watt. As a pass-rush specialist, Watt has the uncommon ability to find the throwing lane and bat down passes for incompletions and tipped interceptions.
“He’s a star player,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of Watt. “He really does a great job. He’s tenacious. He works hard. He’s long. He’s creates a lot of issues. So he’s definitely someone we have to account for and make sure he doesn’t wreck the whole day for us.”
Inside linebacker Brian Cushing is another defensive weapon Seattle will have to account for. After missing most of last season with an ACL injury, Cushing has looked good in his return to the Texans, recording 1.5 sacks, an interception for a touchdown, and a team-leading 24 tackles over their first three games. And the creative and aggressive schemes favored by Houston’s defensive coordinator Wade Phillips exploit the versatility of his players.
It all adds up to a challenging assignment for the Seahawks offensive line, which will again be without it’s best player, left tackle Russell Okung, who was placed on the IR-to-return list last week with a toe injury.
“Protection is paramount this week,” said Bevell.
Houston’s offensive linemen are undoubtedly thinking the same thing as they prepare to face the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Although they were able to put together game winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Chargers and Titans, respectively, Houston’s offense has looked middling this season, with star running back Arian Foster averaging just 63.3 rushing yards per game and wide receiver Andre Johnson fighting through a shin injury. Quarterback Matt Schaub has also struggled early this season, particularly last week against the Ravens, when he threw for just 194 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Schaub knows that he’ll need to play well against Seattle’s D to give his team a chance to win.
"They're very good. They're good across the board," Schaub said of the Seahawks defense. "They're fast, big, physical, especially in the secondary, which is unusual. They cover a lot of ground. They challenge you, so we've got to be up to that task."