Texans offensive line still has something to prove vs. Cardinals

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans offensive line, which is now without rookie center Nick Martin for at least four months after he underwent ankle surgery last week, will get a chance to play with what could be the regular-season starting lineup Sunday against the visiting Arizona Cardinals.

The Texans are still without tackles Duane Brown (quadriceps) and Derek Newton (hamstring) and will likely have a starting five of guards Jeff Allen and Xavier Su'a-Filo, tackles Kendall Lamm and Chris Clark, and center Greg Mancz to protect quarterback Brock Osweiler.

Head coach Bill O’Brien said the Texans’ starters will likely see around the same amount of playing time as they did Aug. 20 against the New Orleans Saints, when the majority played into the second quarter.

Here are five things to watch in the Texans’ third preseason game.

Injured offensive line: With the news of Martin’s ankle surgery, the Texans turn to former undrafted free agent Mancz to start at center. With the injuries to Brown and Newton, tackles Clark and Lamm will get more opportunities Sunday. Against the Saints, the line had improved in its pass protection of Osweiler but struggled with run blocking.

Osweiler's progress: Osweiler will get what will likely be his final snaps of the preseason. Against New Orleans, he played until midway through the second quarter, finishing 12-for-19 for 124 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Keep an eye on how well Osweiler communicates with offensive coordinator George Godsey during the game and how quickly the quarterback is getting rid of the ball, one area in which Osweiler said he saw improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. “If you look at the way we broke the huddle in San Francisco, got to the line of scrimmage, compared to how we broke the huddle against the Saints, got to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball, I think you’ll notice a big difference,” Osweiler said. “We were getting the call in quicker, I was getting to the line of scrimmage, I was making my Mike [linebacker] points quicker and we were getting the ball going.”

Return game: Though the special-teams unit as a whole played better against the Saints, O’Brien said he would still like to see a little more from the return game. On punt returns in Game 2, the Texans had just 20 yards on four attempts. Fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin, who was a difference-maker returning punt at San Jose State, will likely get more chances to impress O’Brien in the third preseason game.

DeAndre Hopkins: Hopkins has had just one catch for eight yards and has been targeted just three times in the first two preseason games. It’s certainly not cause for alarm -- O’Brien is letting the younger receivers get looks during games -- but given that Osweiler and Hopkins have never played in a regular-season game together, they will likely want to get some work outside of practice and in a game situation.

Front seven: Though we do not know when defensive end J.J. Watt will return to practice, there is a chance he will not be ready to play in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. Christian Covington has played well filling in for Watt, but keep an eye on what the defense can do without Watt in what will likely be the final dress rehearsal for the starters.