Defense faces a tougher test at Philly


No one needs to tell the Texans' defense the challenge they face Thursday night against the Eagles' multi-faceted quarterback Michael Vick.

"We've got to do our best in getting everybody to him and hit him," defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "The guy is phenomenal. A lot of the things he does makes you go wild."

The Texans are coming off their best defensive performance of the season. Still, they aren't strutting about their 20-0 shutout of the Tennessee Titans on Sunday that included three interceptions by second-year cornerback Glover Quin.

That was then.

The Texans were facing rookie sixth-round quarterback Rusty Smith, who was making his first NFL start following a week of controversy surrounding Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former starting quarterback Vince Young.

Now the stakes are much higher. Vick is having an outstanding year, using both his legs and arm to confound defenses.

"You won't see many quarterbacks that can basically out-rush their running back if he wanted to," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "You aren't going to see the same quarterback change his game from running and now he's able to pass the ball now. That makes him more of a dangerous weapon."

The Texans' defense has struggled all season, just as it did in the first three games a year ago before turning into one of the better units in the league. It's taken longer this time, but defensive coordinator Frank Bush hopes Sunday's victory signaled a big swing.

"It's a bit of a confidence booster," Bush said. "We've shown some signs of playing good football. We've come up short in two football games and to come out and completely get after somebody it really builds our confidence and gets some of those other things out of our system."

Vick has accounted for 18 touchdowns this season, 13 passing and five rushing.He leads the NFL with a 106.0 passer rating.

"He's probably the most explosive player in football," Bush said. "He's the best player on their team and on the snap of the ball, he gets the ball. That's not the case with a lot of teams.  The best player has the ball, so we've got to be able to figure out how to corral him not only when he runs, but he throws it pretty good, too."

Blitzing is tough against the Eagles quarterback.

"Playing against Vick, it's like playing against Vince Young but a little bit better," safety Bernard Pollard said. "The guy can throw the ball for miles. He can run like a running back. Then, you have a two-headed monster in the backfield along with some dynamic receivers."

Quin and the young Texans' cornerbacks know what's ahead.

"They've got one of the fastest receiver corps in the league," Quin said. "They complement each other so well. He can buy time for them to get down field. He's got the arm strength to throw it 80 yards. So we've got to be ready to know what we have to do to get him stopped.

"In his younger days, once he pulled the ball down, he was running. Now, once he pulls the ball down, he's still trying to throw it, so we have to stay in coverage."

The Texans can't concentrate too much on Vick because the Eagles have plenty of offensive weapons, including wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Maclin has eight touchdowns and 757 receiving yards, and Jackson has 678 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

"You don't want to get in the mind frame of focusing too much on that one player, then another player will have the game of his career to beat us," Smith said.

At least the Texans are coming off an encouraging performance.

"All things happen for a reason," Smith said. "I don't claim to know the reason, but we definitely needed a win like that to get our confidence in a mode to play a team like this."

Smith acknowledged that the defense's confidence had taken a hit.

"It (beating Tennessee) gave us something back that we had earlier in the season and for some reason it withered and dimmed out," Smith said. "I think anybody in the NFL is a professional. Sunday wasn't about Rusty Smith. I'm sure if it had been Vince Young or (Kerry) Collins, the confidence we played with it would not have made a difference. It was more about us growing up as a team."

Pollard tagged the Eagles as one of the top two or three teams in the NFL.

"If they're not the best, they're top 2-3 in the league," Pollard said. "Look at the weapons they have. They have one of the most explosive players in the NFL. They've got Maclin, who is a dynamic player as well. They have a good OL that's blocking for them. They are ready to go. They make things happen with the ball.

"I think it's time for us to build from this and get ready to play."

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has seen Vick in action up close as his backup when the two quarterbacks played for the Falcons.

"I learned a lot watching Mike and playing behind him for three years," Schaub said. "He was one of the most, at the time, visible and talented sports figures, along with the likes of Tiger Woods, in the world. Just learning and watching him go through a game plan each week, what he had to deal with being the starting quarterback, there were just a ton of things I learned and took away from that."

Bush has shuffled his players all season, trying to get a solid combination. Rookie Darryl Sharpton has moved into a starting linebacker position. Veteran Jason Allen has moved into the cornerback rotation as a steadying force for the young secondary.

They'll need it all against the Eagles and Vick. Brian Cushing sat out the first four games of the season on suspension and is rounding back into shape.

Cushing is pleased with Sunday's performance, but…

"It doesn't mean anything if you go out there and lay an egg against a great team on national TV. We've got to keep going and we're playing a great team."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams.

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