Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (5-6) take on the Philadelphia Eagles (7-4) on Thursday night football at Lincoln Financial Field. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. CT. The game will be televised nationally on the NFL Network and locally in Houston on KIAH Channel 39.
The Texans are 0-2 against the Eagles, with the last meeting coming in 2006.
1. Slowing down Vick: The Texans' defense is coming off its best performance of the season – and one of the best in franchise history – in a 20-0 shutout of the Tennessee Titans, but Michael Vick provides a much tougher test than Titans rookie quarterback Rusty Smith.
Smith was making his first-career start last Sunday, and the Texans capitalized with three interceptions while limiting him to a 26.7 passer rating. Vick leads the NFL with a 106.0 passer rating and is one of the most dynamic athletes ever to play the quarterback position.
In eight games this season, Vick has thrown 13 touchdowns and only one interception, which came on a tipped pass last week against the Bears. He also has five rushing touchdowns on 64 carries for 419 yards.
Despite his elusiveness, Vick has been sacked 22 times and fumbled eight times this season. He has been sacked at least three times in six games this season, including four times in last week's loss to Chicago.
2. Schaub's homecoming: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, Vick's backup in Atlanta from 2004-06, will be playing in front of a large group of family and friends at Lincoln Financial Field. Schaub grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of West Chester and starred at West Chester East High School, which is just 22 miles west of the Eagles' stadium.
"It'll just be exciting," Schaub said on Tuesday. "It will be fun to go back up there, see a bunch of family and friends. Playing in a little bit colder weather outside up there, it's always a fun time."
Schaub has been on a roll after struggling in losses to the Colts and Chargers. He has a 104.0 passer rating over his last three games while throwing for five touchdowns, no interceptions and 746 yards. The bursa sac issue in his right knee has been a non-issue as far as his production in the last two weeks.
In 19 road games since 2008, Schaub has completed 66.2 percent of his passes and thrown for 5,522 yards and 30 touchdowns. His average of 290.6 yards per game on the road over that span is the best in the NFL.
3. Foster's workload: League-leading rusher Arian Foster had a short week to rest after touching the ball 39 times against the Titans (30 carries, nine catches), begging the question of whether his workload will be reduced against the Eagles.
That shouldn't be a concern, as Foster was not listed on the injury report this week and said that he'll gladly carry the ball as much as the coaches ask him to.
"I hope we run 76 plays again," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Tuesday. "That's the first time in a while we were able to hold the football that long. There were plenty of snaps to go around. We ran a football game that demanded that we hang on to the football and run the ball well. When he's able to touch it that many times, usually good things happen."
Foster has accounted for 1,600 of the Texans' 4,210 yards (38 percent) this season and 13 of their 30 touchdowns (43 percent). He leads the league in rushing yards (1,147), yards from scrimmage, rushing touchdowns (12) and games with 200-plus yards from scrimmage (two).
If the Texans do opt to lessen Foster's workload, they'll be in good hands. They're the only team in the NFL with three 1,000-yard rushers on their active roster, with Foster, backup Derrick Ward (1,025 in 2008 with the Giants) and Steve Slaton (1,282 in 2008 as a Texans rookie). Ward is averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 36 attempts this season. Slaton, who's from the Philadelphia area and will return kickoffs on Thursday night, is averaging 4.9 yards on 19 attempts.
4. Mario in prime time: Texans defensive end Mario Williams has played some of his best football in primetime.
In the Texans' only previous Thursday night game, Williams had a career-high 3.5 sacks against the Denver Broncos in 2007. He had three sacks on Monday Night Football the following season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Williams didn't record a sack in the Texans' last two Monday night games, but he has three sacks in the last two weeks to bring his season total to a team-best 8.5. If defensive linemen Amobi Okoye, Antonio Smith and Mark Anderson can continue their recent strong play, it might be Williams' turn to shine on the primetime stage once again.
5. Pick your poison: In addition to trying to slow down Vick, the Texans will have to contend with what might be the best group of skill position players in the NFL.
Vick has three wide receivers who can stretch the field in DeSean Jackson (678 yards, 19.4 yards per catch, five touchdowns), Jeremy Maclin (752 yards, 14.7 per catch, eight touchdowns) and Jason Avant (479 yards, 11.7 per catch). Tight end Brent Celek has 23 catches for 287 yards and three touchdowns.
Running back LeSean McCoy leads the Eagles with 59 catches for 448 yards, and he leads the league with 584 yards after catch. McCoy also has run for 779 yards on 156 carries (5.0 average) with six touchdowns.
The Eagles' second-ranked offense is a balanced attack, as they rank third in rushing yards per game and eighth in passing yards per game. The Texans' 28th-ranked defense, which is 31st against the pass, will have its work cut out for it.