Can you feel the excitement? Houston is 3-1, first in the division, and now gets all pro linebacker Brian Cushing back. While this is an awesome start compared to years past, this is only ¼ of the playoff equation and Houston must continue their winning ways. Week 5 brings the New York Football Giants to Reliant Stadium. As far as the Giants go, they are the opposite of Houston. While the Texans have a terrible defense and get into offensive shootouts, the Giants are very defensive-minded and rank 3rd in the NFL in yards allowed. Which side will prevail and will Brian Cushing be the edge on defense that Houston needs? Like the bad 70s TV show ending that I always end up sounding like, stay tuned to find out . . . Houstons Running Game vs. New Yorks Run D: This is the absolute key to Houstons offensive success. Foster basically holds the key this week. New Yorks running defense has been mediocre this season and allowed both the Colts and Titans to have solid rushing outings (the Giants lost both games). The talent is great along the defensive line, but their athleticism plays into Houstons zone blocking scheme. Along their line are ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora and tackles Barry Cofield and Chris Canty. Tuck and Osi are incredibly athletic and have a tenacity about them this year that they didnt last year. Canty is a much better pass rusher and is in his second season in the 4-3. Cofield is a personal favorite of mine and is strong and athletic. Hes been putting a lackluster 2009 season behind him and been stepping up. The linebackers for the Giants are young and have talent, but definitely inconsistent and lack a true leader. Sintim is still transitioning from the 3-4 to the 4-3, Goff is in his first year as a full time starter, and Boley just hasnt looked the same since his early years in Atlanta. Good news for Houston is they typically do well against athletic defenses. They need to treat this like the Colts and let the ends come straight up the field. If Houston can run the ball well, they can control the game and avoid making Schaub vulnerable. Houstons Passing Game vs. New Yorks Pass D: The Giants are built for rushing the passer. Tuck and Osi are both pass rushing defensive ends that specialize in getting to the QB. Both can get the edge and are extremely athletic. Canty has spent most of his time as a 3-4 DE and the other DT Barry Cofield is also athletic enough to make plays. Even starting linebacker was thought of as a 3-4 OLB because of how great he was at rushing the passer in college. Scary thing is these are just the starters. The secondary is pretty solid. New Yorks main three cornerbacks have plenty of experience and are a talented bunch that includes starters Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas with Aaron Ross as the third CB. Thomas is my favorite out of the bunch and is a young playmaker. Ross has struggled at CB in the past, but can play just about every position in the secondary. At safety is pro bowler Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips (if he plays). Rolle spent time at CB before shifting to safety and never looked back. He has the coverage skills for the position and is a willing tackler. Phillips is questionable, but has talent. Hes constantly injured, so its hard to know how hell play. Hes basically a wild card. Houston definitely needs to stay out of third and longs or plan on running a lot of draw plays/screens. They need to manage the down and distance to let them take advantage of 3 and 5 step drops. New Yorks Running Game vs. Houstons Run D: The Giants offense is a bit of an enigma; they are top 10 in the NFL in yards per game, but rank 20th in points per game which plays well into the Houston bend but dont break philosophy. As far as the running game, Ahmad Bradshaw is the starter but might not play. Hes shifty and hits the hole quickly. Mario Williams and Antonio Smith will need to keep aware of the cutback lanes as Bradshaw can and will take advantage of them. If he doesnt play, the big bruiser Brandon Jacobs will play. He can make defenses pay with his physical style and is more athletic than people give him credit for, but he fits better for Houstons aggressive defense with the likes of Cushing and DeMeco Ryans. As far as the offensive line for the Giants, theyve been playing together for years and for good reason! If it aint broke dont fix it. They have lots of chemistry and are a physical, mauling group. This could cause problems in the middle as our weak point, but there is some question when it comes to center due to injuries which should help out at least a bit. For Houston, if theyre playing against Bradshaw they need to play contain and avoid the big run. If its against Brandon Jacobs they need to put on their hard hats and gang tackle. Houston has one of the top run defenses so Im not overly concerned. They definitely need to focus more on the pass. New Yorks Passing Game vs. Houstons Pass D: Heres where the big problem is for Houston. Despite Eli Manning being a bit turnover prone, he has a talented group of receivers. Hes not afraid to take shots downfield and can make you pay if you give him time. As far as targets it starts with Hakeem Nicks, the second year player out of North Carolina. Hes got solid speed and runs great routes. He can get down field and has the size advantage. Steve Smith should be the better matchup for Houstons secondary as hes a possession receiver so there shouldnt be overly concerned about him burning anyone deep although he will probably kill the corners over the middle. The third go to player of the group is Mario Manningham and hes dangerous. Hes got speed, is a vertical threat, and can make the big play. It will be a good week to see how Troy Nolan does in deep coverage. A big matchup in the passing game will be Kevin Boss against Houstons linebackers. Theyve done terrible against tight ends, but Cushing has a much better track record and could cure the woes. As far as pass protection, New York is nothing special although they will definitely try to contain Mario Williams. That will leave Antonio Smith and Amobi Okoye in one on one situations so they need to be ready to take advantage. The pass rush will be the saving grace for Houston; if they can get to Eli, they can force bad throws and make up for the lack of solid corners. POSITION BATTLE QB Advantage: HOUSTON RB Advantage: HOUSTON WR Advantage: PUSH TE Advantage: PUSH OL Advantage: PUSH DL Advantage: NEW YORK LB Advantage: HOUSTON CB Advantage: NEW YORK S Advantage: NEW YORK K/P Advantage: PUSH RET Advantage: HOUSTON X-FACTOR: Brian Cushing, OLB Best believe Cushing is the X Factor! Its crazy for most people to think Houston is 3-1 so far this season. Its even crazier to think that they did this without their all pro linebacker. Cushings intensity has been missed and he will immediately start on the strong side moving Zach Diles back over to weak side. His biggest impact will be in the passing game where he can rush the pass and also drop back in coverage. Houston has given up a significant amount of passing yards, but surprisingly a high amount of those are to tight ends and running backs (about 46% of all yards allowed). His presence should help lower these numbers. Cushing is also the most effective linebacker Houston has when it comes to rushing the passer. Houstons run defense is already 2nd in the NFL so his main benefit will come in the passing game. KEYS TO THE GAME 1) Quick decision-making from Schaub. Last week New York got after Jay Cutler and abused Chicagos offensive line. Part of it is Chicagos offensive line; theyve allowed this all season. The other part is Cutler likes to hold on to the ball too long in Martzs scheme which requires time for the receivers to get open down field. While Houston has a significantly better offensive line, Schaub also tends to hold onto the ball too long. He needs to work the 3 and 5 step drops to make ensure he doesnt take unnecessary punishment like he did against Dallas. 2) Jump out to an early lead. New York has a stingy pass defense that has both stellar pass rushers and a talented secondary. For Houston, a huge key will be gaining an early lead so that they dont have to abandon the run. Houstons running game has been stable all season long and is a vulnerability of New Yorks. If Houston falls behind, it will play right into New Yorks strength and could begin a vicious spiral downward. Houston can pass the ball, but there are definitely more mistakes to be made when the defense knows you have to throw the ball. 3) Win the turnover battle. Eli Manning likes to make mistakes. Schaub when pressured can also make mistakes so there is a definite opportunity for some sloppy play on Sunday. Houston needs to be ready for an aggressive New York defense that will be looking to force mistakes, especially if they dont have to worry about Andre Johnson and/or Jacoby Jones. For Houston, ball security will be key. Whether they want this to mean more carries for Arian Foster and less for Slaton or even fewer passes is up to the coaching staff. Either way, the turnover battle will be key.