HOUSTON - The Texans waited until Week 4 last season to earn their first win. As they enter their week Week 4 matchup against Carolina this season, they have a chance for a 3-1 start, which would be the third time they've done that in the Bill O'Brien era (2014, 2016).
The Panthers will come to NRG Stadium off of their best performance of the season behind backup quarterback Kyle Allen. Carolina earned their first win of the season with Allen throwing four touchdown passes in their 38-20 win at Arizona.
Here are three matchups to watch Sunday.
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs Texans LB Zach Cunningham
McCaffrey is one of the biggest dual-threat running backs in the NFL and is coming off a game in which he produced 188 yards of offense. He had a season-high 153 yards rushing — while averaging over 6 yards a carry in a game for the second time this season.
He's one of just two backs with 10 or more receptions in a game. He did that in week 1 with 10 receptions for 81 yards against the Los Angeles Rams in the Panthers' 3-point loss.
Cunningham is the only linebacker who has even a remote chance of making life difficult for McCaffrey. He leads the Texans with three tackles for loss, so he has been able to disrupt offenses this year, but he will likely be more of a spy on McCaffrey, who produced the league's longest running play of the season last week, when he busted off a 76-yard touchdown run.
Texans edge rushers J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus vs Panthers rookie left tackle Greg Little
Little shifted to left tackle last week when the Panthers' star guard ,Trai Turner, went down with an injury, and he fared well against Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs, of the Arizona Cardinals. Mercilus has been sensational this season, with four sacks, three of them caused fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Texans. Watt is coming off an extremely disruptive performance against the Los Angeles Chargers. He had two sacks and five quarterback hits.
Texans safety Tashaun Gipson vs Panthers tight end Greg Olsen
Olsen caught six of his seven targets from Allen last week, two of which went for scores, the first two touchdowns of the season for Olsen. He is unlikely to break off a huge play, but if you consider first downs big plays, then he is constantly making huge plays. Sixteen of Olsen's 16 catches have been good enough to keep the chains moving. That's the key for Gipson and the other Texans who will try to limit Olsen, keep him behind the chains. Gipson was targeted by the Texans in free agency because of his success against tight ends. This game would be a good one to show that ability.
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