The Four Things to Watch For in Cardinals vs. Texans in Preseason Week 3

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During the regular season in the NFL, as a team and as a head coach, you do whatever you can to win games, health of players be damned. Tape it up, rub some dirt on it and go. Conversely, in the preseason, you don't really care about wins, the primary goal is just keeping everyone healthy.

So in a weird way, the fact that the Texans are 2-0 in the preseason, but ravaged with injuries on the offensive line and to their best player (one Justin James Watt) is so very appropriate for the Houston Texans and what they've been over the last, say, five to seven years — a lot of good things happening, but just not properly timed or synched up just right.

This Sunday, we will get a good feel for just where this group is, as the Arizona Cardinals, a team on most experts' short lists to get to the Super Bowl in February, come to town for the ALL-IMPORTANT third preseason game. (And yes, I put that in CAPS because it feels like everyone uses that adjective for the third preseason game.)

So let's take a quick look at some things to watch for this Sunday.....

4. Stepping up in weight class
Yes, the Texans tore the buttocks out of San Francisco's third and fourth stringers, and made the New Orleans Saints look fairly foolish at times on Saturday, but who DOESN'T do those things? This will be a fun test for the Texans on Saturday, as they will get a look at a team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals' receiving corps is dangerous with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and David Johnson is one of the top running backs heading into the season. Defensively, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are a deadly secondary combination, but it remains to be seen how much Mathieu plays as he just returned to the practice field from an ACL tear sustained last season. Either way, if the Texans come away Sunday having outplayed the Cardinals starters, then we have some cause for excitement. 

3. Covington and Reader
Among the position groups where the Texans have been looking for answers, defensive line is probably at the top of the list, and that's even before J.J. Watt had back surgery a month or so ago. The good news is that there is cause for optimism with a couple of later-round draft picks from the last two drafts. Christian Covington (who flashed last preseason, too) has shown some solid playmaking ability, and rookie D.J. Reader was a beast against the Saints. Covington, in particular, has a chance to nail down a starting spot heading into the regular season on Sunday and the following Thursday against Dallas in the final preseason game. 

2. Return game
It would appear that the coaching staff really wants rookie Tyler Ervin to win the starting return man gig, on kickoffs and punts. Like REALLY wants him to, as in "they had everyone wondering on Saturday when the hell someone else would get a shot." Ervin looked indecisive and tentative returning kicks against the Saints (one 14 yard kickoff return, three punt returns for a 3.0 yard average), so it will be interesting to see if he's the first guy out there in return game, or if a guy like Wendell Williams, who frankly needs to return kicks to make the team (unlike Ervin), gets a chance. 

1. Clowney, back to back 
On the heels of a game where Jadeveon Clowney sacked Drew Brees for a 14 yard loss and was generally disruptive in a variety of ways on Saturday, it's safe to say that this is the most optimistic the fan base has felt about Clowney since the Atlanta preseason game during his rookie year. Even last season when he had a couple sacks against the Patriots, it was on a night that the team was getting smoked and it was toward the end of a full season where Clowney was up and down. The preseason, almost by definition, engenders optimism, and right now there is a guarded optimism surrounding Clowney. Another big game Saturday is almost necessary to keep that feeling alive.  

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.    

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