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Five things to watch: Texans at Colts


Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (5-3) take on the Indianapolis Colts (7-0) in a matchup of the AFC South's top two teams on Sunday. Kickoff is 12 p.m. CT at Lucas Oil Stadium.

High stakes: The Texans are 5-3 for the first time in team history. To get to 6-3, they'll have to do something they've never done: win at Indianapolis.

Not only are the Colts 7-0 all-time against the Texans at home, they're 7-0 this season and riding a 16-game regular-season winning streak. To say that a Texans victory would be significant would be a significant understatement.

The Texans are 3-1 on the road in 2009, with the lone loss coming in the final minutes at Arizona. Quarterback Matt Schaub has been particularly outstanding with a 105.6 passer rating, 10 touchdowns and an average of 347 passing yards per game.

Schaub, the league's leading passer, and Andre Johnson, the league's leading receiver, will be playing together against the Colts for the first time. Injuries and illness have sidelined one of them in the four matchups since Schaub joined the Texans in 2007.

"I think this game is very big," Johnson said. "I think every game that we play from here on out is going to get bigger and bigger every time you win. All the rest of these games that we have are big games… this one is probably the biggest game we've had since I've been here."

Replacing Daniels: This will be the Texans' first game without Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels, who suffered a season-ending injury last week at Buffalo. Daniels was off to the best start of his career and leading the Texans in receptions (40) and touchdowns (five) at the time of his injury.

Fourth-year veteran Joel Dreessen is the new starter at tight end. He's widely regarded in the Texans' locker room as one of the most underrated players on the team, and now he'll get a chance to show why. Dreessen will continue to serve as the Texans' long snapper but will be relieved of his other special teams duties.

The team doesn't expect one player to replace Daniels' offensive production. That means receivers Kevin Walter, David Anderson, Jacoby Jones and André Davis should see more balls come their way. The running backs could become more involved in the passing game as well.

With rookie tight end James Casey also sidelined for at least one game, rookie Anthony Hill will play for the first time. Safety Nick Ferguson could take Casey's place on special teams, while defensive end Jesse Nading was signed from the practice squad to replace Dreessen in that capacity.

Backfield by committee?: Texans coach Gary Kubiak did not name a starting running back on Friday, instead reiterating what he had said all week: He's "going to play them all."

"Them all" refers to Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats and Chris Brown. Slaton has started 23 consecutive games but was sent to the bench in the first quarter at Buffalo when he lost his fifth fumble of the season. Moats replaced Slaton and ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns.

Kubiak did say this week that Moats earned more playing time with his big game. He also expressed confidence in Slaton and said the team needs him to win. Slaton ran for a career-high 156 yards as a rookie at Indianapolis last season.

The Colts are in the bottom half of the league (17th) in rushing defense, allowing 112 yards per game. They'll be without several defensive starters this week because of injuries, as detailed in the next section.

Indy's banged-up defense: The Texans' No. 3 passing offense will be facing a depleted Colts defense that lost three starters in the secondary and a starting linebacker to injuries this week.

Safety Bob Sanders (biceps) and cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) were placed on injured reserve. The Colts announced that cornerback Kelvin Hayden (knee) will miss up to one month. Strongside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler was placed on injured reserve with a biceps injury.

Under Bill Polian, the Colts are usually one of the best teams in the league at plugging in replacements and seeing little drop-off. Sanders, the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, will be replaced by Melvin Bullitt. Bullitt has 14 starts in the past two seasons.

The Colts are likely to field two rookies as their starting corners on Sunday in Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey. Powers has started six games this season. Lacey has played in all seven games but started just once.

Philip Wheeler, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech in 2008, is expected to replace Hagler.

Slowing down Manning: Three-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning is off to one of the best starts of his 12-year career. He has 300 yards passing in six of seven games and an AFC-best passer rating of 109.3.

In 14 career games against the Texans, Manning has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,859 yards and 33 touchdowns with just five interceptions. His passer rating is 116.5.

The 49ers brought pressure up the middle and sacked Manning three times last week. He had been sacked twice in the first six games. They also kept Manning from throwing a touchdown pass, though he still threw for 347 yards.

The Texans' surging defense, which ranks fourth in the NFL since Oct. 4, will be counting on the likes of Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Amobi Okoye to pressure the pocket and make Manning throw in a hurry.

"I think you go in there with the mindset that you're not going to stop Peyton," Kubiak said. "You're not going to do that. You hope to slow him down. You hope to make a few big plays in the game… You can't let plays that he's going to make lead to a problem on the next play.

"I think we're better with our mindset from that standpoint. Like I said, hopefully we can make some plays to slow him down."

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