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Five things to watch for - Texans at Falcons


Schaub will be playing in the Georgia Dome as a visitor for the first time.

Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons:

Schaub's homecoming: Quarterback Matt Schaub will be celebrating a homecoming of sorts when he returns to Atlanta to battle the team that drafted him in 2004. The poised passer says he has nothing to prove to his former team. Instead, he wants to prove to the NFL that he can bounce back from a loss and lead a balanced offense.

"Well, we want to go in and establish the run," Schaub said. "That's our main priority every game because if you can run the football, that sets up a lot of things you can do in the passing game, so that's something that we definitely want to do. They have tremendous team speed and a good front seven, so it'll be tough."

The quarterback has certainly been doing a great job of spreading the offense, executing coordinator Mike Sherman's well-crafted game plan. Last Sunday, 10 different players caught passes from Schaub, who has completed 75.9 percent of his passes on the season. Now the focus will turn to revving up the running game. – Brooke Bentley

College reunion: Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye hasn't spoken to his college coach Bobby Petrino since the NFL Draft. That's because they've both been busy acclimating to their first NFL seasons, not due to animosity over Petrino's Falcons passing on Okoye with the eight pick in the draft. Still, Okoye has a chance to remind Atlanta what it's missing when he meets up with Petrino and several other faces from his Louisville coaching staff on Sunday.

"I'm looking forward to it," Okoye said. "It's always going to be extra motivation when you're going against old teammates, old people, old faces that you know because you always want to perform, bring your 'A' game, and show them that you still got it."

Okoye's three sacks lead all NFL rookies, and Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington has been sacked a league-high 14 times through the first three games. Okoye has to be feeling good about his chances of a grand finale to an outstanding first month of his NFL career.

Running men: The Texans' running attack had been stalled by injuries to rushers Ahman Green and Ron Dayne. Dayne is now healthy and playing at full speed, while Green will be a game time decision because of a sore knee.

That means Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner, will be working overtime along with Samkon Gado, pounding the ball up and downhill against a Falcon defense that has given up more than 142 rushing yards per game, 26th in the NFL.

"We've got to run the ball better," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I've talked about that. We got totally away from it last week with the way the game went and the situation we were in. But for our football team to be successful, we've to got to come out of the game running the ball 30-35 times."

A big key to the rushing attack will be the performance of center Mike Flanagan in his first start of the season in place of injured Steve McKinney, a strong run blocker.

"McKinney stepped in and did a real good job from the beginning of the season, and it's going to be tough," Dayne said. "But we've got Flanny, and Flanny's a great guy, too. We're going to miss McKinney, but Flanny can step in and hold it down, too."

Someone to play for: Defensive tackle Cedric Killings, who is recovering from a fracture to his C4 vertebra, was named a game captain by Kubiak during an emotional scene at practice on Friday. Although Killings will not be able to travel with the team, his presence will mean a great deal to his teammates.

"For coach to make him an honorary captain, that's something that we'll remember," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "He'll definitely be on our minds while we're in Atlanta. We definitely want to get this win for Ced."

Killings surprised his teammates at their last practice of the week by walking into the post-practice huddle. Most of them thought he was still in the hospital recovering from the frightening injury that forced him to be carted off the field on a stretcher against the Indianapolis Colts.

"It was inspiring, and just knowing that the coaches are dedicating the game to him, it means that much more because he's such a great guy," defensive end N.D. Kalu said. "For him to get hurt the way he did right after he got called back to the team, you really want to go out there and leave it on the field for him."

DeAngelo watch:DeAngelo Hall is one of the Falcons' best players and one of the top corners in the league who poses a dominant threat to the Texans' untested receiving corps. It's just not clear how much he'll play on Sunday.

Hall was disciplined by the Falcons after a three-penalty tirade, which concluded with an outburst at Petrino on the sidelines, that hurt the Falcons late in their close loss to Carolina last week. Team officials wanted to keep the penalty private, but Hall announced with displeasure this week that he was fined $100,000 and might have to sit out the first half.

While the exact suspension is unclear, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Hall will at the very least not start the game. With Hall on the sideline, Schaub would have a much easier time establishing consistency in the passing game. But the Texans' quarterback isn't looking for any freebies.

"I can't control what happens with that; that's the coach's decision down there," he said. "But he's a great player, and you always want to go against the best and get a team's best shot. He's a great player, and we're looking forward for that challenge."

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