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Five things to watch: Texans at Titans


Here are five things to watch for as the Texans look to regroup after Hurricane Ike in a matchup with the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on Sunday.

1. Containing the Titans' front four: After two weeks of regular season play, the Titans rank second in the NFL in total defense, holding teams to 202 yards per game. They are second against the run, limiting opponents to 60.5 yards rushing per game.

The backbone of the Titans' 4-3 defense is their play up front. Three Pro Bowlers start on Tennessee's defensive line with tackle Albert Haynesworth anchoring the middle and Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch bookending the line.

The 6-6, 320-pound Haynesworth and right end Vanden Bosch combined for 18 sacks last year, and the Titans signed Kearse during the offseason. The Texans' offensive linemen will have their work cut out for them, especially rookie left tackle Duane Brown and right tackle Eric Winston.

"From a standpoint of Kearse and Vanden Bosch, you won't find any better two," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "And when they are at home they are even better just from the standpoint that they get off the ball so fast. So Duane has his work cut out for him and so does Eric. They have to do a good job containing those guys."

{QUOTE}Brown struggled during his first NFL start against the Steelers, allowing linebacker James Harrison to record three sacks on quarterback Matt Schaub. Tennessee's blitz schemes are less complicated than the Steelers', but that doesn't mean they are less effective.

"They have a great scheme," Brown said. "They run a lot of twists. They switch positions and try to get the offensive linemen on different levels. Their whole defense is built off of that front four. Their linebackers make plays off the defensive line. Everybody really makes plays off of them."

Brown's priority will be fending off Vanden Bosch, who is coming off a 12.0-sack season.

"Whether the play is 30 yards away from him, he's coming for the ball," Brown said. "I think that's the biggest thing about him, how hard he goes every play.

"He goes 100 miles per hour on every play. He never gives up. You have to contain him. You can't just stop him for three or four seconds."

2. 'Dre takes on Finnegan: Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan has been feeling pretty good about himself this season. Finnegan has recorded three interceptions and held Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson to 37 receiving yards last Sunday.

"He's football smart," Schaub said about Finnegan. "He knows routes and patterns and how to match them up. He's definitely a guy that makes a lot of plays, so we have to be aware of where he is and what coverage he is giving us."

Finnegan's next assignment will be covering the Texans' Andre Johnson, who had nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in his last meeting with Tennessee. Johnson racked up 112 receiving yards against the Steelers and will use his powerful frame to make life difficult for Finnegan.

Very few NFL receivers create separation like Johnson does, but Finnegan presents a worthy challenge.

3. Keeping on Kerry: With Vince Young sidelined with a knee injury, 35-year-old Kerry Collins has been starting at quarterback and will continue doing so as long as the Titans are winning.

Collins is the NFL's third-leading active passer with 34,910 passing yards and 175 touchdowns, but he also is more of a game manager than a playmaking threat. Against Cincinnati, Collins led the Titans to a 24-7 win by throwing low, tight passes. He finished 14-of-21 for 128 yards and one touchdown.

"He's a guy that is going to stay in the pocket, not a very mobile guy, but he can beat you with his arm," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "He's a smart guy, a smart quarterback. (He's) been around a while. So he knows how to make the right decisions with the football."

The Texans would like to see Collins make the wrong decisions, so they'll keep the pressure on him with defensive end Mario Williams leading the way.

4. Stop the run first, ask questions later: After giving up 183 yards on the ground at Pittsburgh, the Texans' run defense has a shot at redemption on Sunday going against rookie Chris Johnson and third-year pro LenDale White.

Johnson quickly has emerged as one of the fastest running backs in the league and third-year pro LenDale White is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season.

"We know they have a good running game," Ryans said. "The rookie running back (Johnson) has been doing a good job for them. LenDale is running well. So our biggest focus is stopping them in the run game and getting them in third-and-long and getting after Kerry Collins.

"This time, we really have to focus on shutting the run game down and stopping them and make them turn the ball over and punt the ball."

Kubiak is especially impressed with Johnson, who rushed for 109 yards against the Bengals.

"He's giving them big-play ability," Kubiak said. "When he's touched the ball, he's given them a chance to make a big play all through the preseason. He's done it in the regular season. He did it in Cincinnati last week."

Keep an eye out for veteran defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina, who will start in place of Travis Johnson (knee).

5. Texans playing for Texas: In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ike, the Texans' game takes on an added meaning. It's a chance for the team to dedicate a game to all those in the Houston area who suffered because of the storm.

"It's very big for us," Ryans said. "We plan on not only playing for ourselves, but for everyone around the city, everyone around the state of Texas that's looking to sort of get back to a normal life. Everybody loves to watch football. So hopefully we can do that for our fans here and for our hometown here in Houston, get back on the winning side of things."

Kubiak has been proud of the way the players regrouped and refocused on the field. The team plans to participate in relief efforts after the weekend, but for now they are concentrating on bringing a win back to Houston.

"When they've been out here and in meetings with us, and been out here on the field, I think it's been good," Kubiak said of his players. "I think the tough thing for them is the minute practice is over there's a lot of questions about everything else that's going on and I'm sure the minute they get home there's a lot of questions and issues. But that's the hand we've been dealt and nobody is going to feel sorry for themselves. We're going to just keep plugging and doing our job and hopefully we can put a smile on the face of a lot of people in this city this weekend and go out and play well."

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