One of the biggest question marks entering the 2018 season is how the Houston Texans defense will jell early on.
While the offseason focus has mainly been on the health of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, the addition of Tyrann Mathieu has flown under the radar. The ex-Arizona Cardinals safety struggled early last season to return from his latest knee injury, but looked more like the Honey Badger down the stretch. A ball-hawking, do-it-all safety when healthy, Mathieu could provide the Texans secondary a turnover-inducing playmaker to complement the potentially devastating front.
The Houston defense will be tested right off the bat, facing the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. In five seasons in Arizona, Mathieu never faced Brady -- TB12 was suspended during the 2016 matchup with the Patriots.
"It's going to be fun," Mathieu said of facing the Patriots QB, via the Texans official website. "Brady's special. He's a special player. I look up to him in a lot of different ways. He's the ultimate competitor. For me, it's just about getting in front of him and seeing what he's got."
The Patriots enter the season with questions about their receiving corps following Julian Edelman's suspension. New England opens the season with Chris Hogan, Philip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson atop the wideout depth chart. With major questions, expect the Pats to utilize James White and Rex Burkhead a lot out of the backfield. Tight end Rob Gronkowski should also see an uptick in targets.
The Patriots targeting running backs and tight ends more frequently would suggest Mathieu will be busy in Week 1. It's quite possible his play could determine the outcome of the opener.
Mathieu knows that questions at receiver won't slow Brady's ability to move the offense.
"He understands how to win, and we have to understand the importance of getting him off the football field," Mathieu said. "Because any time we keep him on the football field, he can do some good things. So, we just have to go there, be ready, communicate well, tackle well and not try to do too much."
The Texans almost pulled off an upset last season in New England. With a healthy Deshaun Watson, Watt, Clowney and Mathieu on the field Sunday, Houston will try to jumpstart the season by pulling off a Week 1 upset over Brady & Co.