Here are five things to watch when the Texans (6-3) take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) in Week 10 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Kickoff is on Sunday at noon CT.
The all-time series between the Texans and Bucs is split at 1-1. The Texans won 28-14 in Houston in 2007. The Bucs won 16-3 in Tampa in 2003.
1. Good vs. bad: For the second consecutive week, the Texans' dominant rushing offense will go against the league's 26th-ranked rushing defense.
The Texans ran for a team-record 261 yards last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Arian Foster and Ben Tate topped 100 rushing yards in the same game for the second time this season.
The Bucs have allowed 132.4 yards per game and 4.86 yards per carry – and that was before defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was placed on injured reserve this week with a biceps injury.
"We got to play hard, we got to play fast, we got to play smart and play consistent," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said on Wednesday. "That's the only way we have a chance to defend this great running team."
Foster ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing with 656 yards on 154 attempts (4.3 average). Tate is tied for ninth with 623 yards and ranks third with 5.7 yards per carry. They're the only pair of teammates with 600 rushing yards apiece. Both have four 100-yard games.
2. Going streaking: The Texans' No. 1 defense has held three consecutive opponents to less than 175 yards of total offense. They're the ninth defense since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to accomplish the feat.
All of the previous eight teams to do it won their division that season. Two (1985 Chicago Bears, 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers) won the Super Bowl. Three others made their conference championship game.
No team has ever held four consecutive opponents to less than 175 yards of offense. Only four teams since 1970 have kept four consecutive opponents under 200 yards.
Can the Texans make history this week? The Bucs average 343.5 yards per game, which ranks 15th in the league. Their lowest output this season was 272 yards at San Francisco in Week 5, and they've had less than 300 total yards only two other times (vs. Atlanta and Chicago).
3. Young Buc: The young Bucs are led by 23-year-old quarterback Josh Freeman, a third-year starter who was a first-round pick in 2009.
Freeman has been up and down this season. He ranks 26th in the league with a 76.8 passer rating. He has eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions but a career-high 62.9 completion percentage and 2,004 passing yards.
"He's far from a finished product, just like his football team, but he's doing well," Morris said. "If he's playing his best game, we can be a lot better. Our team is certainly driven by Josh Freeman and what he's able to do and what he's able to produce. Certainly, he can control a lot of things both offensively and defensively by keeping our team on the football field."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak compared Freeman to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger this week because of his size (6-6, 248) and ability to extend plays. Freeman has the third-most rushing yards (642) of any NFL quarterback since 2009, and he has been sacked only 10 times this season.
The Texans are tied for third in the league with 24 sacks, a driving force behind their No. 1 defensive ranking. It won't be easy for Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing and company to continue that success against Freeman.
4. Blast from the past: With McCoy out for the season and former Texan Frank Okam doubtful with a calf injury, the Bucs, who run a 4-3, could be down to three defensive tackles on Sunday. One of those defensive tackles is Albert Haynesworth.
The Texans and Haynesworth, who the Bucs claimed off waivers this week after he was cut by New England, are no strangers. Haynesworth was as an All-Pro with Tennessee in 2007 and 2008, and he opined publicly in 2008 that Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was afraid to play the Titans. Schaub was injured twice against Tennessee in 2007.
"That was a while ago," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. "I'm not sure what kind of feelings he has towards us now. It's irrelevant at this point. We've just got to go out and handle business. I think he still can be a force when he's full-go. It's just another added challenge to the game."
Haynesworth (6-6, 350) has been with the Bucs for all of four days, and he hasn't been the same player since leaving Tennessee. After signing a seven-year, $100 million contract with Washington in 2009, he was suspended by the Redskins late last season and traded to the Patriots for a late-round draft pick. He had only six tackles in three games for New England this season.
"He's going to line up and play against us, and we're going to block him just like we block anybody else," right tackle Eric Winston said. "We're not going to make him into anything that he's not."
5. One last time: If all goes according to plan, this will be the Texans' last game of the season without Andre Johnson. The All-Pro wide receiver is expected to return from his Oct. 2 hamstring injury after the upcoming bye week.
"He's doing really good, but the smart thing to do is to give him this extra time to rest," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We got to continue to have some guys step up and take his place."
During Johnson's five-game absence, Texans wide receivers have combined to catch 39 total passes. Texans running backs and tight ends have 54 catches in that same span.
Foster leads the Texans over the last five games with 22 catches for 325 yards. Tight end Owen Daniels has 20 catches for 265 yards since Week 5. Tight end Joel Dreessen has 11 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receivers Jacoby Jones (12, 199) and Kevin Walter (20, 243) have combined for 32 catches for 342 yards.
To put those numbers in perspective, Johnson had 25 catches for 352 yards in less than three-and-a-half games before his injury. But the Texans have managed to go 3-2 without him, winning three straight after dropping their first two. Their offense has actually been better, ranking third in the AFC since Johnson's injury with 415.6 yards per game. Tampa's defense ranks 29th in yards allowed per game (398.6) and 32nd in yards per play (6.32).