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Five things to watch: Texans at Cardinals


Here are five key things to watch for on Sunday when the Texans face the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Kickoff is at 3:15 p.m. CT.

Wide receiver showcase:The stage is set for a showdown of two of the game's elite receivers on Sunday. Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald both have been to three Pro Bowls apiece and are coming off the best season of their respective careers.

Johnson had a monster regular season, leading the league with 115 catches and 1,575 receiving yards. Fitzgerald wasn't far behind, pacing the NFC with 96 grabs for 1,431 yards, and he dominated the postseason with a record-setting set of performances.

Since then, a tug-of-war-debate has been waged among media and fans around the nation: Who's better, Johnson or Fitzgerald? The game on Sunday won't provide a definitive answer, but it'll add a ton of fodder to the discussion.

Beyond Johnson and Fitzgerald, the Texans and Cardinals feature two of the most talented receiver corps in the NFL. Arizona's Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston both surpassed 1,000 yards in 2008, and Boldin is the only player in history to reach 500 career catches faster than Johnson. The Texans go five-deep with Kevin Walter, who had 1,699 receiving yards in 2007-08, and Jacoby Jones, David Anderson and André Davis.

Antonio's return: Coming off of his best game as a Texan, defensive end Antonio Smith returns to Arizona to face the team with whom he spent the first five seasons of his career.

Smith was drafted by the Cardinals in the fifth round in 2004. He was cut twice, signed to the practice squad and spent an offseason in NFL Europe before finally sticking with the team. He became an impact player for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008, tallying 11 sacks and playing stout defense against the run.

He'll have a chance to show the Cardinals what they're missing on Sunday. Smith has fond memories of his time in Arizona, but he said this week that he's looking forward to a chance to compete against his former teammates and go after quarterback Kurt Warner. Don't be surprised if Smith, a player who thrives off of emotion, comes through with a big performance.

Secondary test: The Texans' secondary limited Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell to 12-of-33 passing for 128 yards last week. They have an entirely different task on their hands in Week 5 in Warner, a former NFL MVP, and his trio of 1,000-yard receivers.

The Texans likely will be using their fifth starting secondary combination of the season against the Cardinals' high-powered attack. Free safety Eugene Wilson is expected to return after missing the Raiders game due to illness. He will start for the first time next to strong safety Bernard Pollard, who made his Texans debut last week.

Franchise cornerback Dunta Robinson is getting better each game after missing the preseason. Jacques Reeves, who started all 16 games and led the Texans with four interceptions last season, is expected to return. Rookie cornerback Glover Quin made his first start against Oakland and played well, and rookie Brice McCain also got more playing time. The young group is improving at the right time with Warner and Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer up next on the schedule.

Rattling Warner: In the Cardinals' two losses, both at home, Warner was sacked seven times. He threw four interceptions and completed 58.3 percent of his passes in those games.

Warner wasn't sacked once in the Cardinals' victory at Jacksonville, and he set an NFL single-game record by completing 92.3 percent of his passes in that game. He threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Warner has a legendary quick release and has made a career off of dissecting blitzing defenses.

"We have to get pressure from our front four," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "They come off the ball good, and I feel like we can get pressure from our front four working against their offensive line."

The Texans' front four could be without defensive end Mario Williams, who will be a game time decision with a bruised shoulder. Head coach Gary Kubiak said that Williams has a "good chance" of playing, but Williams didn't practice until Friday. If he can't play, rookie Connor Barwin presumably would get the start in his place.

Special teams difference: The Texans' special teams were on the field for a whopping 32 plays last week, and coordinator Joe Marciano had his players firing on all cylinders.

The Texans averaged 32.3 yards per kickoff return, including Jones' 95-yard touchdown. Jones averaged 8.6 yards on six punt returns with a long of 23. The Texans also were exceptional in kick coverage. Oakland's Johnnie Lee Higgins lost four yards on two punt returns, and Justin Miller averaged only 17.7 yards per kickoff return.

Punter Matt Turk pinned two punts inside the 20, including one at the one-yard line that led to a safety. Kicker Kris Brown missed from 33 yards out but was good from 26 and 34 yards and made two extra points.

"On the road, you need to go in there and just battle, and hopefully you get a couple of breaks," Kubiak said. "I think one of the things I feel good about right now is the way our special teams are playing. I think Joe has done an excellent job. I think our special teams can be a difference for us week in and week out right now."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at ******* or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at *******.

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