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Houston Texans

Five things to watch for – Texans vs. Broncos


Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans (6-7) play in a nationally televised Battle Red game against the Denver Broncos (6-7).

1. Mario No. 1: Redemption. Sweet redemption. That's what defensive end Mario Williams has to be thinking as he heads into Thursday's contest against the Broncos with a career-high 9.5 sacks, including 5.5 sacks in the last four games.

Williams, the No. 1 draft pick in 2006, was tormented by the media during his rookie year for not living up to the hype generated by running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Vince Young, who were the second and third picks in the 2006 draft, respectively.

Now, Bush is out for the season with a strained knee ligament and has mediocre numbers to show for his time on the field, averaging only 3.7 yards per rush in 312 carries. Young is still trying to get comfortable in the pocket, posting a meager 56.5 completion percentage.

Williams is proving to be one of the best defensive ends in the league and he is about to come face-to-face with another draft classmate, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler.

On Sunday against the Chiefs, Cutler threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns. The second-year quarterback was allowed plenty of time in the pocket, and he used his strong arm to fling the ball downfield. Cutler won't have that luxury against Houston.

Super Mario will be all over Cutler, just like he was with Tampa Bay's Luke McCown - only now, the defensive end will get to do his harassing on national television.

Williams also will have reinforcements. Against Tampa Bay, the Texans blitzed more than they had all season, recording four sacks in the 28-14 win. Williams and Co. will be gunning for Cutler…and for more sweet redemption.

2. Stopping Selvin: Denver running back Selvin Young returns to his hometown as an NFL rookie sensation. The former University of Texas star, who attended Jersey Village High School, was picked up by the Broncos as an undrafted freed agent, but he is posting first-round draft pick numbers.

"He's a very mature kid," Denver head coach Mike Shanahan said of Young. "He's like a five-year veteran. He does not miss assignments. He looks forward to the game. He can come up with the big play."

This season, Young is averaging 5.7-yards per rush, which ranks second among NFL backs this year. On Sunday, he ran for a season-high 156 yards on 17 carries against Kansas City. Young's 569 rushing yards places him third among rookie running backs this season, following first-round picks Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.

Young, who will sport a large cheering section in Reliant Stadium, is raring to go against the hometown team that passed him up in the draft. On the other side of the ball, the Texans will be making sure Young doesn't get his way.

Williams said the defense is going to be aggressive from the start in order to stuff Young.

"He goes hard," Williams said of Young. "He's one of those type of guys that you can't just throw your arm out there and try to get him. He's a very hard runner.

"We've got to come out and we've got to be prepared to be really physical against him. Like I said, he runs very hard and he'll run through tackles."

3. Sage vs. Denver defense: Quarterback Sage Rosenfels snapped the Texans' two-game losing streak Sunday by leading the Texans to a 28-14 win over the Bucs.

Rosenfels is a perfect two-for-two in games that he has started this season, and he'll start again Thursday while injured Matt Schaub continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder. So far this season, Rosenfels has thrown for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But he hasn't faced the Denver defense yet.

"Their corners are really, really good," Rosenfels said. "They've got a really good pass rusher (defensive end Elvis Dumervil).

"I think he had three sacks last week. He's a very talented pass rusher, so as I said they do a lot of things. John Lynch is a lot of times in the box hitting people and creating turnovers. They've got good players and they've got a good scheme."

The Broncos often put eight defenders in the box, putting a lot pressure on the opposing quarterback. Dumervil doesn't help matters, notching 11 sacks and seven pass breakups this season. And corners Champ Bailey and 'Dre Bly could be the best pass-defending combo in the NFL.

Still, Rosenfels isn't sweating too much. Against Tampa Bay, he proved he can handle the pressure, using short drops to get the ball downfield.

"You talk about the depth of the pocket and what he does," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's not a big stretch-out guy. You watch tape of Sage, he's usually playing somewhere around the seven or the eight-and-a-half yard mark when he drops.

"It probably helped us the other day with the way (Tampa Bay) can rush the passer to have Sage stepping up and being a little shorter in his drop."

4. Prime-time gamer: Certain players just know how to turn it come game time. They are natural winners. The Texans have such a player: linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Ryans, who leads the team in tackles with 114, has been hobbling around on a bruised knee this week. But don't let the limp fool you; the second-year player will be ready to go on Thursday.

The linebacker is known to shoot the gap and get to the quarterback, and he will be key to stuffing Young and the rest of the Denver rushing attack.

"I know (Young) is a guy that can really get going and take it to the house," Ryans said. "He's a shifty guy that has a lot of speed and has been running the ball well for them. It's going to be a challenge for our defense to stop a pretty quick guy."

It's a challenge that Ryans is ready to take on before a national audience.

"It's time for everybody to tune in and see what the Texans are about," Ryans said.

"I always tell (the defense), 'Let's pick the intensity up just a little bit more, let's pick the swagger up, let's go out and show people what the Houston Texans defense is really all about,' and we have the spotlight on Thursday night to do that."

5. Family affair: Not only are playoff possibilities at stake in the Texans-Broncos contest, family pride is on the line.

Kubiak spent 11 seasons as the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator and almost his entire NFL lifetime as Bronco head coach Mike Shanahan's protégé.

The two remain close friends, but they are still extremely competitive.

"My football life's been there, especially in the National Football League except for one year," Kubiak said. "Right now, it's another game. I'm sure when I walk out there and they play the National Anthem and I look across the other side and I see a guy that I spent 20 some-odd years of football with, that'll hit me. But right now we're just trying to prepare to play the Broncos."

Helping Kubiak prepare is quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan, son of Mike. The Shanahan clan will be in attendance, trying to decide which team to cheer for in Reliant Stadium. The father and son, however, will not be catching up before kickoff.

"I'm not going to talk to him because anything could happen," Kyle said. "We talk a lot and when we do, we can't help but to talk about football. We both enjoy it.

"If we just sat and had a conversation where we say we're not going to talk about football, we know it eventually will come up. Both of us want to do it; he'd be scared to say something to me."

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