DeMeco Ryans and the Texans are out for vengeance against the Titans.
Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans travel to LP Field for a pivotal road matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
1. Evening the score:The Texans have a chance to get even with the Titans in more ways than one on Sunday. They've dropped five straight to Tennessee dating back to 2004, and the last three games all have been decided by six points or fewer.
"We definitely owe them one," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We haven't beaten them. We've been close – in all the games we've played, we've been close but we never pulled it out. We definitely owe them one and this is a must-win game for us."
And despite last week's disappointing outcome in Cleveland, the Texans still can even their record at 6-6, pull even with Tennessee in the AFC South and, even better, keep themselves in position to challenge for a wild card playoff spot.
"You have to take care of the football and convert opportunities that are presented to you," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "When those things are there, you have to take them. You can't just expect them to be given to you. You have to go and get it. Every game at this point of the season is going to be a playoff-type atmosphere because everyone's fighting for that playoff spot."
A win also would improve head coach Gary Kubiak's record to 4-2 in December and give the Texans three consecutive wins in the final month of the season dating back to last year.
2. Controlling the football:The Texans have been plagued by turnovers this season, losing a league-high 29. Those turnovers have been disheartening for a team that boasts the sixth-best passing attack in the league (256 yards/game).
"Looking back, it's weird that we haven't had a game without a turnover because we're playing a lot better than we did last year, and I think last year there were a number of games where we didn't have a turnover," tight end Owen Daniels said. "It's tough to think about it sometimes, but we could be a lot better than we are if we just wouldn't turn the ball over. We could be pretty good, and we've shown that."
The season statistics back up those words. The Texans are 1-5 in 2007 when they've lost the turnover battle, and a perfect 4-0 when they've won it.
"It's something you're always searching to find the answer to," Kubiak said. "Right now, it's just very disturbing. It's been on-going. I can promise you, we're going to do everything we can to fix it. We have been trying to do everything we can to fix it. Ultimately, the players fix it when they're on the field protecting the ball."
3. Or-'Dayne'd again: With Ahman Green sidelined again by a lingering deeply bruised knee, Ron Dayne will make his sixth start of the season on Sunday.
Tennessee's stingy defense rates fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (292.1), but Dayne has been running the ball extremely effectively as of late. The big bruiser has churned out 289 yards in the last three games, averaging well over four yards a carry. He's also plowing ahead with the confidence of his offensive line and an attitude to help the team win at all costs.
"He's been playing good football for us," Kubiak said, adding that Dayne has been doing a fine job picking up blitzes in protection. "Ronnie has been a constant. He's been there, our guys can count on him and he's playing really well at this point."
"I've been on the Dayne train the whole season and I'll continue to ride with him, do whatever I can to block for him and give him a lane to run the ball," guard Chester Pitts said. "He gets that locomotive going and he squares up, gets those shoulders down the field, and he runs it."
As of Friday, Kubiak had not decided what he would do with the backups. Adimchinobi Echemandu could see his first carry since the New Orleans game, while rookie running back Darius Walker saw plenty of reps in practice this week and also could be activated for his first NFL game.
4. Worth his weight in gold:Titans coach Jeff Fisher expects defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to return to action against the Texans, according to a Friday report in the Nashville Tennesseean. The monstrous Haynesworth has missed the last three games with injury and the Titans went 0-3 in those games, a statistic which the Texans know is much more than a coincidence.
"They're a different team with Haynesworth in the middle, no doubt about it," tackle Eric Winston said. "They haven't been the same team for the last three weeks and I think we all know that. With him in there, they're going to be able to get back to what they were doing good before they lost him, and they're going to be tough."
Haynesworth was having arguably the best season of his six-year career, notching 30 tackles and five sacks in what Kubiak has called an MVP-caliber year.
"When he's in there, he himself is disruptive and somewhat dominant most of the time this year," Fisher said. "I think more importantly, he makes the guys around him better only because of his presence, by drawing double teams and drawing the center of attention in passing situations and creating one-on-ones for the rest of the guys. When you can get the pocket collapsed, good things happen. We just haven't been able to do that."
5. Accounting for Young:Titans quarterback Vince Young will start against the Texans. Young missed the Titans' prior game against the Texans this season with a quadriceps injury, and Kerry Collins started in his place to lead the Titans to a 38-36 victory.
There's never a question concerning Young's motivation to play his hometown Texans, but what is uncertain is whether the second-year quarterback will be able to minimize the mistakes that have hurt him as of late.
Young has put up career passing numbers recently, including a 305-yard passing day at Denver two weeks ago, but also has thrown only two touchdowns to seven interceptions in his last four games. On the season, he has thrown five touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
But Young's moxie as a runner will have the attention of the Texans' defense.
"He's a terrific athlete," cornerback Demarcus Faggins said. "He's got a lot of talent, so you've always got to keep an eye on where he's at. He can run the ball, and then he's got some receivers over there that he can tell go catch the ball, so we've got to always look at that and just keep an eye on him just in case he tries to scramble like you know he will and try to come back and make the tackle."