Five things to watch: Texans at Raiders

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The Texans own a 3-0 all-time record against the Raiders.

The Texans (7-7) finish their 2008 travels at Oakland (3-11) on Sunday. Houston owns a 3-0 all-time record against the Raiders and is looking to extend its team record to five consecutive victories.

1. Field day for Slaton? Running back Steve Slaton has been on a tear over the last five weeks, rushing for more yards than any player in the NFL and racking up 579 of his season-total 1,124 yards in that time span.

The 5-9, 201-pound Slaton could pad those stats against the Raiders, a team that ranks 31st against the run and allows 167.1 yards rushing per game. Raiders defensive tackles Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands and Gerard Warren have been notorious this season for breaking down in their assignments and leaving massive holes for opposing offenses to run through. Backs like the Jets' Thomas Jones, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Atlanta's Michael Turner have taken advantage of those opportunities and run for more than 130 yards each against Oakland.

Slaton leads the AFC in total yards from scrimmage per game, averaging 102.1. The rookie also leads the NFL in fourth-quarter rushing yards this season. Slaton has run for 374 fourth-quarter yards, more than Washington's Clinton Portis (365), Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (320) and Atlanta's Michael Turner (291).

"That would surprise me a little bit just with his size and how many times he's touched the ball," coach Gary Kubiak said. "What doesn't surprise me is we really put an emphasis this year on being able to finish games running the football. We've been committed to that, so that's something that we've gotten better at. We've finished a couple games on the field making big first downs and hitting a knee and calling it a day. That's eventually what you want to get good at."

2. Johnson meets his match: Wide receiver Andre Johnson leads in the NFL in both receptions (103) and receiving yards (1,408). But he won't have an easy time of it at Oakland.

Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl, will go one-on-one against Johnson. Asomugha has the strength to knock Johnson off his route and keep him from getting separation. In fact, Johnson thinks Asomugha is the best cornerback in the league.

{QUOTE}"More than likely, he'll probably follow me across the field," Johnson said. "He's a great player. He's finally gotten into the Pro Bowl. He's a guy I voted for. I thought he really deserved it, and it's going to be a big challenge for me."

According to Steve Corkran of the Oakland Tribune, Asomugha has faced only 17 passes and allowed eight completions for 133 yards and no touchdowns this season. Randy Moss has been the most successful wide receiver to match up against Asomugha, catching only three passes for 40 yards on plays in which he was covered by the Raiders' lockdown corner.

The Texans can try freeing up Johnson by moving him to their right side because Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tends to keep Asomugha on one side of the field.

3. Run defense gets a workout: The Texans' run defense will get a workout of its own going against Raiders running backs Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.

The three have helped Oakland become the league's 10th-best rushing offense, averaging 118.3 yards per game. Fargas has been the backbone of that attack, rushing for 749 yards. McFadden, the fourth overall draft pick in 2008, has 451 yards and four touchdowns on 100 attempts this season.

The Raiders have become a run-heavy offense because quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the first overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, has struggled in his first year as a starter.

The Texans' defense proved its might last Sunday, limiting the Titans to 100 yards rushing, but it won't get the day off this week.

4. Dunta goes back: Cornerback Dunta Robinson will return to the same field where he suffered career-threatening knee and hamstring injuries on Nov. 4, 2007. And he is trying to keep thoughts of that devastating day from entering his mind.

"I probably won't think about it until I step on the field for the first time," Robinson said. "The thought probably won't go past the situation that occurred last season. It won't be something that sticks with me for long. I'll walk out, I'll think about it, and then it's time to play football. But I really haven't thought about it much. I still have never seen the film on the injury. It's just not something that I want to revisit."

Instead, Robinson wants to focus on the Texans' defense, which has come alive since his return. During the Texans' four-game winning streak, the defense has allowed just five touchdowns and didn't allow a single touchdown against Tennessee. The Texans also have forced 11 turnovers and allowed just 17-of-35 third-down conversions during that span.

"Our corners have played very well in the last month," Kubiak said. "They are breaking up passes, breaking on the ball. I think we've done an excellent job with that. I think we've made people get rid of the ball pretty quick, even though the sack numbers aren't up. But we have made guys get rid of the football and we've gotten some teams in some longer-yardage situations, more so than we did earlier in the season."

5. No trap game allowed: The Texans want to make sure they don't fall into a trap game at Oakland on Sunday and blow their chances of finishing with a winning record for the first time in franchise history.

On the surface, the Raiders look like they have thrown in the towel. The have won only three games this season and rank 31st in offense (262.2 yards per game) and 27th in defense (362.2 ypg).

But Oakland is capable of surprises. Among their three victims this season are the Jets and Broncos, two teams vying for a spot in the playoffs.

"They have a lot of talent," Kubiak said. "They have a young quarterback. Any time you're trying to bring up a young quarterback, those are pains you go through.

"Two of the teams they've beaten are leading their divisions: Denver and the Jets. They do things that give us problems. They are excellent against the pass and they run the ball very well and they have two great returners."

Wide receiver Jonnie Lee Higgins handles punt return duties and has two for touchdowns this season. Cornerback Justin Miller has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Asomugha, who was named to his first Pro Bowl earlier this week, is considered the best cornerback in the league by Johnson and Kevin Walter.

"We know that they have a lot of tremendous athletes," Robinson said. "And you go back and watch what they did to Denver, who was a pretty good football team, and they beat them pretty good. So going in and expecting a win and thinking it's automatic, that's not something we're doing."

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