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There are very few teams that can lose their starting quarterback and still expect to make the playoffs. There are even fewer teams that have Andre Johnson.
Matt Leinart is stepping into the best situation possible. Of every single other team out there, this one fits Leinart (or any other quality back up) the best. The offensive line has done a very good job, the running game is great and the defense is the best in the NFL. However, it may be even more important that Leinart will have Johnson as the best receiver in the game on his side.
There is a two-part advantage for Leinart with Johnson coming back into the fold this week. The first is obvious: Johnson can take a five-yard slant and take it to the house for an 80-yard touchdown. He will demand safety help because the Jaguars will be without their best cornerback and the only person that would stand any chance on his own against Johnson. Rashean Mathis is out for the season and will be having an ACL replacement surgery later this month.
With Mathis out, Johnson will demand a lot of extra attention from the Jaguars, with either a safety over the top of him, brackets on either side of him or some sort of combination zone. That should mean that Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter or even Jacoby Jones will be locked up in man-to-man coverage. If Leinart can’t hit any of them in man coverage with a good play-action fake, then he doesn’t deserve to be in the league.
The obvious on-field advantages of having Johnson back may not outweigh the fact that the Texans as a team have adapted to not having Johnson out on the field. They have not been used to having No. 80 on the field, and because of that, the expectations for the passing game have dropped significantly. Since Johnson was injured, the Texans are averaging 253 yards per game, and even that average is bolstered by a 416-yard game against Oakland.
Because the passing game has taken a step back without Johnson, the team has created an identity as a running team. While that will take a lot of the pressure off of Leinart, there will still be times in the game when he needs to come up with a big-time play, and when he does, all he needs to do is look towards No. 80.