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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Bears


The Texans will need huge play from their front seven to contain Bears running back Matt Forte.

The Texans (7-8) are looking for their fourth win in December when they host the Chicago Bears (9-6) on Sunday. Houston can match its franchise-best 6-2 home mark from 2007 with a win, and the Bears are looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.

1. 'Dre looking for strong finish: Andre Johnson leads in the NFL in receiving yards (1,427) and ranks second in receptions (105). His 94.9 yards per game average is the best in the league over the last two seasons.

Chicago's pass defense ranks 28th in the league, giving up 235.4 yards per game. Looking at the numbers, Johnson has the apparent advantage. But there is even more that is stacked in his favor.

The Pro Bowl receiver is coming off a game at Oakland where he had just two catches for 19 yards, and 'Dre has made it a habit of following up quiet games with 100-yard explosions.

"You're not going to have a 10-catch, 100-yard game every game," Johnson said. "That's not going to happen in football, but you definitely want to go out and play well and you want to go out and do whatever you can to help your team win.

"I just try to make the best of every opportunity that's given to me. I didn't get many opportunities last week, but you never know what can happen this week. I'm just going to prepare myself like I do for any other game and go out and try to end the season on a good note."

2. Slaton vs. Forte: Three rookie running backs rank in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards: Tennessee's Chris Johnson (sixth with 1,228), Houston's Steve Slaton (seventh with 1,190) and Chicago's Matt Forte (eighth with 1,188).

{QUOTE}Slaton outdid Johnson twice this season. He ran for 116 and then 100 yards against the Titans, which were the only 100-yard performances Tennessee has allowed.

On Sunday, Slaton will get a chance to prove he's the best back in the rookie class when Forte visits Reliant Stadium. The 6-2, 216-pound Forte is a power runner with speed to get outside. Plus, he's an excellent receiver, making 60 catches for 452 receiving yards.

"(Forte) doesn't play like a rookie," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "I know there are a lot of rookie running backs in this league that are playing great, and we have one ourselves. But any time you get a rookie and most of the offense revolves around that one guy, you know you've got your hands full. We know that for us to win this football game, we've got to contain him. We've got to stop him."

As far as comparing Slaton to Forte, the 5-9, 203-pound Slaton may possess a little more speed. But both running backs are extremely similar in that they can catch the ball in the backfield, make plays between the tackles and hold their own in pass. Both have surpassed their coaches' expectations.

"I knew (Slaton) was a good player and had a lot of success in college," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But again, you don't predict the type of season that Steve is playing, is having. He's impressive, just like Matt has been. If you look around the league, there has been a lot of first-year running backs that have made an impact, and not even the top ones that were drafted in the draft."

3. Chicago's Tampa 2: Chicago runs an aggressive Tampa 2 defense that gets after the quarterback and is physical up front. The Bears have 28 sacks and get a balanced pass rush from the defensive line of end Alex Brown (six sacks), tackle Tommie Harris (five) and end Adewale Ogunleye (five).

"They pressure quite a bit," coach Gary Kubiak said. "They create a lot of tough situations for your running backs as far as picking up blitzes. On any given day, a team can change, but they are a pressure-oriented defensive football team."

Quarterback Matt Schaub won't have much time in the pocket, but he has had success this season finding his receivers when defenses are blizing.

"He knows where to go with the ball when people come after him, how to get it gone when his protections break down or what's going on protection-wise," Kubiak said. "That's a credit to him. But also, it's a credit to the guys up front and to the backs. But we'll be tested as much as we've been tested from that standpoint this weekend, because this team will not stop coming at any point. When they leave the locker room, they'll be pressuring us, and they'll probably be pressuring us when we walk back in, too."

The Bears' front seven also will pose problems for the Texans in the run game. Chicago ranks fourth against the run, surrendering just 91.3 yards per game. Linebackers Lance Briggs (127 tackles) and Brian Urlacher (102) excel at wrapping up running backs.

"They're a team that rallies to the ball, plays extremely hard," Kubiak said. "They're very good up front. They rush the passer well. They put a lot of pressure on you and (are) a very smart defense. To me, they're as good of a group as we've played all year."

4. Front seven fired up: Stopping the run will be key for the Texans' defense, which ranks 25th in rushing and gives up 126.2 yards per game on the ground. Forte is the focal point of the Bears' otherwise struggling offense.

"Any time a guy's a rookie back in this league and they're a three-down player on the field all the time, it tells you he's something special," Kubiak said. "He can also go outside and run routes, which you don't see much in this league."

To contain Forte, the Texans will have to play big up front. They will need their defensive tackles to plug the middle, and the linebackers will need to make plays in front of them.

"(Forte) is a strong running back," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who leads the Texans with 102 tackles. "He's a young kid that has come in and run well. It's one great class of rookie running backs this year."

5. The 8-8 debate: The Texans can finish 8-8 this season if they defeat the Bears. That will make them 4-1 for the month and 10-5 in December under Kubiak. Plus, they'll be 3-1 against the NFC and 6-2 at home for the second consecutive season.

"If you want to be good in this league, you should be good at home," Kubiak said. "You have to find a way to go out and split on the road if you want to be a playoff team. We haven't achieved the other one, but we have gotten better at home."

The Texans may not be gunning for the playoffs like Chicago, but they are playing to win.

"We're going to do what we've got to do to beat the Bears," Kubiak said. "We're going to play our (starters). This is an important game for our football team."

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