Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (2-4) take on the Cincinnati Bengals (0-7) at Reliant Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
1. Filling in for André: Wide receivers David Anderson and Jacoby Jones will be called upon to step up over the next few weeks while André Davis sits out with a finger injury. Both receivers will get increased playing time this Sunday, with Anderson expected to line up as the slot receiver and Jones able to play at all three receiver positions.
Jones, who has one catch for five yards this season, also will get the first crack at the Davis' kick return duties. Already the Texans' punt returner, Jones was an all-conference kick returner at Lane College. He returned four kickoffs for the Texans last season.
"'Dré is a heck of a return guy, some shoes to fill, but I'm trying to step up to the challenge and pick up the slack," Jones said. "I did both in college, so I should be able to do it."
Anderson earned a spot on the team as the Texans' fourth wide receiver with a strong summer and preseason this year. He moved up the depth chart past Jones, who had two touchdown catches in the preseason last year and competed for the third receiver spot as a rookie.
Like Jones, Anderson has seen limited action so far this season. He has only two receptions for six yards.
"It's an opportunity for him and Jacoby to prove that they belong, and I think they do, so we'll see," head coach Gary Kubiak said.
2. More snaps for Dunta:Cornerback Dunta Robinson should get more reps this Sunday in his second game since coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list. The hard-hitting cornerback was limited to 25 snaps in strictly nickel and dime formations in the Texans' win over the Detroit Lions.
"We'll put another play count on him," Kubiak said. "It will definitely be higher than it was last week. I would like his play to come from base defense and nickel this week instead of just nickel."
Kubiak said that just how many reps he gives Robinson will depend on the flow of the game. Last Sunday, Kubiak planned to let Robinson play on 20 snaps but ended up using him more with the Lions airing the ball out in a comeback effort.
Though the Bengals have the NFL's 29th-ranked passing offense with 151.7 yards per game, they boast three potent deep threats in receivers Chad Ocho Cinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry.
"This team could play three- and four-wide the whole game," Kubiak said. "So I would say if you asked me to put a number on it, I'm looking at 30 to 35 (reps for Robinson) this week. But we'll see how the game goes."
3. Going for three:In the finale of their four-game homestand, the Texans are going for a third consecutive win, an unprecedented feat for the team.
"It's a big challenge for us," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "It's something we've never done here. We're just going to have to keep working and trying to become a better football team."
The Texans won four consecutive games over the last two games of the 2006 season and the first two games of 2007. They won back-to-back games three times last season. But they've never won three consecutive games within a season.
"We had a rough start, but we're starting to play a lot better and doing the things that help you win games," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "That's across the board: offensively, defensively and even special teams. So we just need to keep finding a way to get better and keep improving. We've got a good team coming in here this week. We just have to be prepared to go out and play our best game."
4. No trap game: The Texans don't take much comfort in the Bengals' 0-7 record. Cincinnati has lost four of its seven games by 10 points or less and has faced the top four defenses in the NFL in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Tennessee and the New York Giants.
"They have a really good offense," linebacker Zac Diles said. "They've just played a lot of really good defenses, so we can't overlook anything just because of their record, 0-7. You can't overlook them because they really do have a potent offense, so we've got to go back out there again this week and be on our P's and Q's and execute."
The Bengals will be without quarterback Carson Palmer, who has missed three games with an inflamed throwing elbow. Their sixth-ranked passing defense is now absent rookie linebacker Keith Rivers, who was placed on injured reserve this week. But the Texans aren't taking anything for granted after starting the season knowing all too well what it feels like to start the season on a winless drought.
"We're still hungry ourselves," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We're still scratching to get those wins. We know the position that they're in without getting that win. We know they're going to come in here and they're going to fight very hard to beat us. We have to fight our butts off to continue this winning streak.
"They're a good team. They've been in a lot of games. It's been close, but they just kind of lost it there at the end. They're a couple plays away from having a totally different record. We've noticed that on the film, and their record doesn't justify the talent they have on the team."
5. Benson emerging:Just three weeks into his tenure with the Bengals, running back Cedric Benson, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, appears to have taken over the team's starting running back job from Chris Perry. Cut by the Chicago Bears in June, Benson signed with Cincinnati on Sept. 30 after trying out for multiple teams around the league.
"I think Cedric has done a good job," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "And each week – obviously, he's not been with us for very long – he's able to learn more and more and some of the intricacies in the things that you do and becomes more and more comfortable."
Benson averaged 4.1 yards per carry during his first two seasons in Chicago. But his Bears career came to an end after Benson mustered only a 3.4 yards per carry average in 11 starts last season and amid controversy surrounding two offseason arrests.
The former University of Texas is taking advantage of a fresh start in a new city. Benson got the start over Perry and ran for 14 carries for 52 yards last week (3.7 avg.) against the Steelers, who have the third-ranked rushing defense in the league.
"Super powerful runner," Ocho Cinco said. "He's really nice. I watched him when he first got in, and he runs the ball real hard. He had a couple of nice runs against the Steelers, who are very difficult to run against. At some point, with him running the way he is and us having Chris Perry, that two-dimensional backfield like that, I mean, once they get going it can open up stuff."