4 crucial matchups to watch during Panthers at Texans in Week 3

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Robbie Anderson
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Robbie Anderson /
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Carolina Panthers
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) D.J. Moore /

NFL Network. 2-0. 87. Panthers -7.5. 8.20 PM ET. 1-1. 10. Thursday, September 23

What are some crucial matchups to watch as the Carolina Panthers get set to take on the Houston Texans in Week 3?

What a win, what a win, what a win. How about those Carolina Panthers? Gone are the days of the New Orleans Saints coming into our house and dominating, at least for this week.

Sam Darnold looked like a true starting-caliber quarterback in Week 2 after an up and down Week 1, to the surprise of just about everyone who is honest. In reality, who would expect the former New York Jet to pass for 172 more yards than Aaron Rodgers, against the same defense, only a week apart.

Darnold wasn’t the only thing on offense that looked improved either, a much-derided offensive line stepped up their play against a better defensive line and held their own for the most part. Only allowing two sacks and three quarterback hits while busting open holes for a seemingly mediocre 89 rushing yards.

That is until you consider just how good the Saints have been against the run, and what they did to the Green Bay Packers last week.

The Panthers did exactly what they needed to do, exploiting mismatches and protecting against them. On the other side of the ball, it was a case of the same story, a different week.

This young squad that many predicted was on the rise seems to have already arrived at the top. Now granted this is not necessarily against the Tom Brady’s or Dak Prescott’s of the world, but the Panthers’ defense leads the league in DVOA and has the best third-down percentage in the league.

That’ll do.

But what about their opponents, one of the biggest surprises of the young season?

The Houston Texans shocked the NFL world by dominating an inexperienced Jacksonville Jaguars team and holding steady with the Super Bowl favorite Cleveland Browns for the first half of Week 2. Prior to a resurgent Tyrod Taylor going down with a hamstring injury that will keep him out of the Week 3 matchup given the quick turnaround.

Everything seemed to be finally clicking for the Texans before that injury and only time will tell if they can recover on offense.

Defensively, however, the team has performed on par with the best and at points seemed to outplay the Browns. But with inexperience on and off the field, consistency will be the biggest issue.

With that little recap out of the way, what are the matchups to watch when the Panthers visit the Texans in primetime this Thursday?