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Five things to watch: Texans at Jaguars


Here are five things to watch for as the Texans (0-2) go on the road for the third week and face the Jaguars (1-2) at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

1. Texans big in the box: There's no big secret to the Jaguars' offensive game plan. This team runs the ball. Last Sunday against the Colts, Jacksonville rushed 48 times, two shy of the franchise record, while attempting a season-low 22 passes. Fred Taylor finished with 121 yards on 26 carries, while Maurice Jones-Drew ran 19 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.

"You better hold your gap, because that's what they've done," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "You look at Indy last week and they had some plays stopped and all of sudden they came out of there and made real big plays. The big plays they made against us last year, the two big plays, the ball came out the backside and we missed the tackle. They are going to challenge you from the opening kickoff to when they blow the whistle at the end of the game. That's just how good they are at doing it."

Houston has allowed 168.5 rushing yards in its first two games, a number inflated by a poor performance at Pittsburgh in which Willie Parker notched 138 yards rushing.

While shaky in the first half against Tennessee, the Texans' defense buckled down in the last two quarters and gave up just 88 yards of total offense. They plan to take those successful adjustments to Florida.

"Those teams are going to run the ball," Kubiak said. "I think the key is that we have to be effective, effective stopping the run. That doesn't mean you're going to totally shut it down, but you have to find a way to keep it under control and get yourself off the field. We did that in the second half the other day, but no challenge bigger than trying to do it again this week against a two-headed monster. They have two great backs back there."

The Texans may not load the box consistently with eight players like Indy did last week, but defensive coordinator Richard Smith will think outside the box. Last week, he moved back defensive end Mario Williams and had him line up next to middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Williams was able to put pressure on the passer and make tackles from the position.

"I think the biggest thing with these two guys (Taylor and Jones-Drew), you better tackle," Kubiak said. "Because even if you're in an eight-man front and you look like you have them stuffed - you go back and watch the Indy game, they had a lot of big plays where you think they are down. They are back there in a pile or something and they come spitting out and make a big run. And one of those was exactly like that against us.

"So you can say you play an eight-man front and you're going to stop the run, that doesn't mean you're going to stop the run. I mean, they are still going to run the ball. They can attack an eight-man front. You're going to have to tackle well."

2. More receivers in the mix: The Texans' starting receivers struggled in Week 3. Kevin Walter finished with four catches for 15 yards and Andre Johnson recorded just two receptions for 29 yards. Johnson also dropped two passes in the end zone and blamed himself for blowing the plays. Now, Johnson is hungry for redemption.

"To be honest, I really can't wait until Sunday because I just want to go out and do something because of what I did last Sunday," Johnson said. "For me, it's just extra motivation and I just want to go out and do something special for this team and get this thing headed in the right direction."

{QUOTE}Johnson could be getting a little more help this week in the form of André Davis, who caught a 49-yard pass against the Titans.

"He played well when we gave him his chances to make plays, and when guys do that then you've got to get them out there and give them opportunities," Kubiak said. "He should be a big part of what we're doing all the time. He's earned that right, and we'll get him the ball."

Last season, Davis entered the game in three-receiver sets and lined up outside while Walter moved inside to the slot. Davis, who also started for Johnson when the receiver was forced to miss seven games with a knee injury, caught 33 passes for 583 yards in 2007.

This year, David Anderson has been lining up in three-receiver sets instead of Davis, who primarily was backing up Walter and Johnson. Davis has proved himself as a deep threat with play-making ability, and his speed could help open up the offense for quarterback Matt Schaub.

3. New approach in the red zone: The red zone has been the Bermuda Triangle for the Texans this year. They get inside the 20-yard line and then they lose their offense.

In fact, the Texans are tied for 28th in the NFL and have scored touchdowns in only 33.3 percent (3-for-9) of their trips to the red zone. Against Tennessee, they were 1-6.

"First off, to get six trips down there, that's a good thing," Kubiak said. "You like to get down there that much, but we weren't very effective. We didn't execute very well in the first half. In my opinion, we left 28 points out there in the first half not finishing off drives."

Those are points Houston can't afford to give up, which is why Kubiak has been evaluating his play calling.

"We had some chances down there to make some plays," Kubiak said. "We had some better calls we could make on my part. We need to run the ball better down there. There's all kinds of things, but usually red zone is the difference between winning and losing in this league."

Last Sunday, Kubiak opted to throw the ball more often than not in the red zone. Two of those passes should have been caught for touchdowns. The Texans also struggled to run the ball in the red zone, averaging just 1.7 yards per carry.

"We just have to find a way to put the ball in the end zone," Schaub said. "When we get down there, we need to convert those and get those touchdowns and not settle for two of those field goals and those fourth downs. We have to convert those. Coach is giving us a chance to go and make a play to go and help our team win and we have to take responsibility for making sure we get that ball across that marker and the end zone."

4. Slaton to see more carries: In his first NFL start, rookie Steve Slaton rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries against the Titans. The running back had 104 yards at halftime when the Texans were down 24-12. He will be expected to carry the ball just as much, maybe even more, against Jacksonville.

"I think we are all excited about his start in his first game out," Kubiak said. "The quicker he becomes a fine, fine player, the better it's going to be for our football team here. I think the thing that was very encouraging for us was, we were concerned with how much of a load he could handle and he ended up handling a lot more than we expected."

Slaton was drafted as a third-down back who could spell Pro Bowler Ahman Green. With Green still nursing an ankle injury, Slaton has climbed to the top of the depth chart.

"He's obviously shown us that he can do everything," Kubiak said. "He protected well in the game. Had one blitz pick-up where he actually ended up on (Titans defensive tackle Albert) Haynesworth and went in there and mustered it up and did the best he could and did a good job."

On Sunday, Slaton will be going against another Pro Bowl tackle in John Henderson. Slaton has proved he can carry the load on every down, but the Texans will need him to increase his production in the red zone.

5. A nasty, physical battle: Houston leads its series against Jacksonville 7-5. In fact, Jacksonville is the only team in the league that has played the Texans more than three times and lost more often than won.

"I know it's very competitive in our division, people get after each other and we've had some dang good football games with them," Kubiak said. "You're going to have to play really, really well to beat them."

Houston swept the series in 2006 with a 27-7 home rout and won 42-28 in the final game of the 2007 season at Reliant Stadium.

"We've had some big plays and when we play Jacksonville, we just somehow find a way to make some big plays that put us in position to come out with some wins against those guys," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

The Texans enter the game hungry for their first win of the season. The Jags opened the season with two losses before pulling out a last-second victory against the Indy. Sufficed to say, both teams are looking to duke it out and stay afloat in the AFC South.

"It's a big game for us," Schaub said. "Go on the road, in Jacksonville, to get a win - we want to erase the taste of the first two weeks out of our mouths and get off the streak that we've been on here. You know, 0-2. To get that first win, it's a big test for us, but one we have to stand up to."

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