Here are five things to watch when the Texans host the Oakland Raiders in a Week 11 matchup at Reliant Stadium.
1. Clean Keenum- Second-year quarterback Case Keenum has completed his first 102 passes in the NFL without an interception. Matt Schaub has the franchise record with 109 consecutive completions without a pick, and he accomplished that in November and December of 2010.
Keenum's thrown seven touchdowns, and needs to continue his squeaky clean record of not letting the other team snare an errant pass. On the game's first play last week in the loss at Arizona, he was strip-sacked, and the Cardinals were able to return the fumble for a score. He also was nearly picked off a time or two last Sunday, and he wants to correct some mistakes.
"Honestly, there's been a few times I've been lucky," Keenum said. "There's been a few spots where
I've taken some chances and gotten lucky. But that is something I do."
While he acnknowledged that he'll sometimes gamble, he also is cognizant of what he has to do.
"That's the number one job of any quarterback is to protect the football," Keenum said. "I need to do a better job of it in some of those situations because you're not always going to get lucky."
2. Stay with 'Dre- Keenum has gone early, often, and with success to wide receiver Andre Johnson. The greatest Texan in franchise history caught Keenum's first pass as a pro, and he's hauled in five touchdowns in the last two games. He made a pair of highlight-reel, toe-tapping touchdown catches against the Cardinals.
Johnson's caught 18 passes from Keenum in the last three games, accounting for 31.6% of the quarterback's completions. He's been targeted 31 times, accounting for 30.4% of Keenum's attempts.
So basically, the Keenum-to-Johnson connection happens just under a third of the time a Keenum pass is thrown.
The veteran pass-catcher, though, wants to see the Texans' offense pick it up in the second half. Houston's scored 64 points in the last three games, and only 16 points have come after halftime.
"We just haven't been consistent," Johnson said. "We come out and play good in the first half and come out the second half and it's not the same. Some way or another, we've got to find a way to get it done. Period."
3. Tighten up- Starter Owen Daniels is on the injured reserve until December. Reserve tight end Ryan Griffin will miss Sunday's game because of a concussion. That means the Texans are down to Garrett Graham and Jake Byrne at the tight end position. Because of the shortage, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison explained Wednesday how the offense will adjust.
"We can stay in our base with just one tight end," Dennison said. "We can move to three wides, but our two-tight end package, Jake can do a good job. It's just one less guy out there that can fill in there at any one point in time and then you can be out of that if somebody gets nicked."
At times, the Texans like to employ a three-tight end set. If they want to do that Sunday, they'll likely employ a reserve tackle.
4. Linebackers in limbo- Like the tight end position, the Texans are without their anchor at the
position. Brian Cushing was lost in Week 7 to a knee injury. His fellow starter Joe Mays might not play against Oakland because of injuries to an oblique muscle and his knee. Darryl Sharpton has started in place of Cushing, and there's a chance he could be joined by Jeff Tarpinian. The young linebacker saw some action at Arizona, notching a pair of tackles, and impressed Kubiak.
"He's fixing to play a lot of football," Kubiak said. "Great opportunity for him and a young career that's trying to get going. I think the key for him has always been trying to stay healthy. So if he can stay in one piece, I think he'll do a good job for us."
Look out also, for rookie Justin Tuggle.
5. Shane returns?- It was a tough week for punter Shane Lechler. He spent a few days in a Houston hospital with a nasty case of the flu. The first 13 years of his career were spent with the Raiders, and it's unlikely he'll miss the game. Even though he didn't practice during the week, Kubiak is confident Lechler will perform.
"He knows what he's doing," Kubiak said. "I don't have any doubt that he'll be ready to play."
That's a good thing, because if were unable to go, kicker Randy Bullock would have to punt. Also, quarterback Matt Schaub would be called upon to hold for field goals and extra point tries.
Lechler is averaging 48.7 yards per punt this season, and averaged 58.9 yards per punt in the loss at Arizona.