By Jay Betsill
Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers
Sunday – September 20 – Noon
Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte
Coming off an opening week loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Houston Texans made news by officially announcing a change in starting quarterbacks with Ryan Mallett taking over for Brian Hoyer. Hoyer beat out Mallett in the training camp battle of former New England Patriot signal callers to win the starting job, but Mallett took over for Hoyer in Sunday’s game and went 8-for-13 for 98 yards and a rating of 110.4.
“I feel like when Ryan entered the game, he added a spark to our team,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “I felt like he moved the ball downfield. He was decisive, had some energy, showed good leadership. We scored 10  points. It’s not an indictment on Brian Hoyer, still have great respect for Brian as a player and as a person. Still think he’s a great leader in our locker room.”
The Texans offense made other news as running back Arian Foster returned to practice for the first time since injuring his groin on Aug. 3 in training camp. After working in limited capacity, the team decided that Foster would not return for the game against the Panthers. Backup Alfred Blue will start in Foster’s absence.
While the Texans can only wait for Foster to return, they bid farewell to wide receiver/kick returner Keyshawn Martin. The team dealt him to New England for an undisclosed draft pick on Thursday.
“I didn’t really expect it, honestly,” said Martin. “It’s a business, and things like this happen every day. You’ll never really get used to it, but you just have to deal with it.”
As the Texans struggle to gain an identity on offense, the Carolina Panthers are also full of questions on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Cam Newton threw for 175 yards in last week’s 20-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars as he is without his top target, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in training camp.
After allowing Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to catch six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns a week ago, it will be key for the Texans to shut down Panthers star tight end Greg Olsen. Olson, who only had one catch for 11 yards in week 1, will likely be targeted often as Newton makes getting him involved a priority.
As of press time, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Texans as he remained in the concussion protocol.
Of note, when the Texans return home in week 3 against Tampa Bay, NRG Stadium will have artificial turf according to ESPN. During the season opener, there were concerns about the surface, which had been natural grass brought in on trays for game days.
“I think our players would tell you that they prefer to play on natural grass versus an artificial surface, but it’s our responsibility both on the club level and the league level to protect players from unnecessary risk,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “The decision was made in the interest of that.”
As for this week’s game, look for the Texans to rally around Mallett and win a defensive struggle, 17-13.