Here are Five Things to Watch during the final nine games of 2013 for the Houston Texans.*
1. QB Shuffle- Matt Schaub started the first six games at quarterback, and Case Keenum was under center as the starter at Kansas City. It was the first time in his two-year professional career that Keenum was even active, but he managed to throw for 271 yards, and find four different receivers for a completion of 27 yards or more.
Head coach Gary Kubiak said after the game that the Texans "found a little heartbeat" against the Chiefs.
"He made some great football plays to get his team in position to win," Kubiak said of
Keenum. "He had his team in position all day long. We just couldn't make the one play to make the difference."
However, on Monday, Kubiak didn't close the door on the possibility of Schaub starting again.
"I'm going to evaluate where we're at as a team and move forward from there," Kubiak said. "So I'm going to do that everywhere, not just at the quarterback position."
Who's under center, and how they perform the rest of the way, is atop the list of things to watch over the final nine contests.
2. Bye, Brian- For the second straight season, the Texans lost inside linebacker and defensive captain Brian Cushing to a knee injury in October. Entering the Kansas City game, he was the team leader in tackles.
When Cushing's 2012 ended prematurely, the Texans defense was affected dramatically. In 2011 and 2012, when he was in the lineup the defense was ranked third in the NFL in points
allowed. Without him for those final 11 games last season, they were 20th in that category.
Cushing left Sunday's contest against the Chiefs with a left LCL injury, and a broken fibula. Darryl Sharpton will take Cushing's place in the starting lineup and will be next to Joe Mays. The Texans also released reserve linebacker Tim Dobbins. Without a game-changer in Cushing, in union with the departure of Dobbins, the inside linebacker depth was wallopped in the span of three days this week.
3. Roster moves- Dobbins was cut, Cushing will likely be placed on the injured reserve and the Texans waived three rookies in Sam Montgomery, Willie Jefferson and Cierre Wood. That's five roster spots that need filling.
A logical fix at running back would be the elevation of rookie Ray Graham from the practice
squad. Kubiak said the Texans have "been very impressed with" the former Pitt Panther. But he also added that bringing Graham up isn't "guaranteed" to happen.
Dobbins, Jefferson and Wood were all special teams contributors for coordinator Joe Marciano as well, and that's a phase of the game which Kubiak wants improved.
"We have some special teams issues," Kubiak said. "The moves we make have got to be special teams oriented to help Joe."
4. Reed watch- Safety Ed Reed missed the first two games of the season before returning and starting in Week 3 at Baltimore. While Reed hasn't filled up the stat sheet (18 total tackles), he hasn't really been challenged by opposing quarterbacks.
"I'm not getting the ball thrown my way," Reed said. "I'm still able to do the things that I know I can do, that I've been doing. It's just a matter of getting opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities."
Reed missed OTA's and training camp with a hip injury, and is rounding into form. If he can get chances to be the ball-hawking safety he was with Baltimore, the Texans defense will reap the benefits. Plus, with a five in the loss column, the Texans' margin for error is razor-thin now, and Reed said he and the team are aware.
"Yeah, it's playoff football from here on out," Reed said. "That's what it is."
5. Line up- Whether it's Schaub or Keenum under center, the offensive line will need to keep the quarterback clean. A Texans quarterback has been sacked 22 times in 2013, as opposed to just 28 times through 16 games last season.
Left tackle Duane Brown missed a pair of games with a toe sprain, and right guard Brandon Brooks didn't play against the 49ers for the same reason. Right tackle Derek Newton's been spelled at times by Ryan Harris.