Here are five things to watch for in the Texans' Week 1 game against the Indianapolis Colts at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.
Fans are encouraged to wear white to the game as the Texans will be in their all-white uniforms for their "Liberty White Out" home opener.
1. Daniels' return: Tight end Owen Daniels is so excited about making his return from a knee injury that his teammates might want to watch where they're stepping in pregame warm-ups.
"I'm concerned I might throw up because I'm too excited," Daniels said. "It's a lot of emotion. First of all, it's the start to an NFL season; everyone's super fired up for it. But being out for 10 months and still being able to be out there Week 1 is huge for me. The fact that I feel good, I feel really good, I think I'm going to be fired up like I was back in high school playing again."
Daniels tore the ACL in his right knee at Buffalo on Nov. 1, bringing an early end to a season that was on track to be the best of his career. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that Daniels will start on Sunday if Daniels says he feels good, and that the 2008 Pro Bowler will probably play 25 snaps in the game.
"But I hope that he'll be arguing with me to play more, and I think he will," Kubiak said. "But I've got to be smart with him. There's a long, long season ahead and he has not played in a while, so I've got to be smart."
Daniels said on Friday that he feels great and "absolutely" plans to lobby Kubiak for playing time.
"I've been doing 25-30 plays in practice for the last week, so I'm going to try to be out there as much as I can," he said. "My knee is not my concern. My knee can hold up for as long as it needs to, it's just whatever situation they need me, I'm going to try to stay on the field and try to have them drag me off of there."
2. Rushing Manning: Two of the Colts' starting offensive linemen, Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday and left tackle Charlie Johnson, are questionable for Sunday's game because of injuries. Saturday (knee) is expected to play.
Johnson (foot) was limited in practice all week, and if he can't play, undrafted rookie Jeff Linkenbach would likely get the start against Texans defensive end Mario Williams. Williams has sacked Peyton Manning in four of the last five meetings between the Texans and Colts.
"I've got to get back there multiple times," Williams said. "I've got to get him off his mark. That's pretty much the biggest thing with Peyton is getting him off-balance, getting him off his timing, so hopefully we can get back there, move him around a little bit and get him down."
Though the Texans sacked Manning four times in 2009, he has been sacked on only 3.2 percent of his 6,531 career pass attempts. Since the statistic has been tracked, the only quarterback in NFL history with a lower sack percentage is Dan Marino at 3.1.
"It's hard to sack him because he gets rid of the ball so well," Williams said. "His timing with his receivers and everything is just excellent. Not just myself, but we've all got to have the want-to to get after it and get him down. That's pretty much it: Just keep working hard."
3. Tough first test: Pressure from the front seven could go a long way in helping the Texans' young cornerbacks against Manning. Including starters Glover Quin (second year) and Kareem Jackson (rookie) and top backup Brice McCain (second year), the Texans don't have a single corner with more than two years of NFL experience.
"(Going young at corner) was a decision we made as a team, and they're facing the best in the game," Kubiak said. "That makes it tough, but that's the way we decided to go and we believe in those guys and they are only going to be able to do it if we play them a few times. They'll get a chance real quick."
Third-year cornerback Antwaun Molden is the elder statesman of the group, but he's listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. Rookies Sherrick McManis and Jamar Wall round out the depth chart for the Texans.
Jackson, the first-round pick out of Alabama, knows he and his young teammates will have their hands full with Manning and Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie.
"It's going to be a challenge, but from seeing the guys that we see every day in practice as far as Andre (Johnson) and Jacoby (Jones), I think we'll be ready for the task," he said. "The pace is going to speed up a whole lot from what we're used to seeing as far as preseason games, but I think we'll be ready for it."
4. Running the clock: The Texans' only victory over the Colts in 16 tries came in 2006 behind 153 clock-churning rushing yards from Ron Dayne. That helped limit the Colts to 24:01 in time of possession and limit Manning to 205 passing yards.
"That's what you've got to do against this team is keep him (Manning) off the field and get them out of rhythm and out of sync," Texans running back Arian Foster said. "If we lean heavy on the run game, we've got to step up."
The Texans are hoping that Foster, who has gone from an undrafted rookie in 2009 to a starter in 2010, can help revitalize a running game that ranked 30th in the league last season. Foster followed a strong finish to his rookie season with a preseason in which he averaged 6.0 yards per carry, capped by a 110-yard game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 28.
"It's very exciting (to be the starter), but with any privilege comes an expectation and so that's why I try to uphold," Foster said. "I'm coming into this game preparing as best I can; not doing too much, not putting too much pressure on myself or the team, just going out and doing what I love doing."
Steve Slaton (toe) was a full participant in practice all week and will be the Texans' No. 2 back. Newly-signed free agent Derrick Ward could see the field in a pinch after getting a crash course in limited parts of the offense this week.
5. Winning plays: The Texans have had a 17-point lead in both of their last two home games against the Colts, but they lost those games by a combined 12 points. They've led at halftime in three of their past four overall meetings with Indy yet lost each time.
Six of the Texans' seven losses last season were by eight points or less, including three- and eight-point losses to the Colts in a span of four weeks.
Establishing a more physical, productive running game to protect late leads would certainly make a difference in close games. But the Texans know that finding a way to consistently win those games comes with experience, and a team that has largely grown up together will be intent on getting off to a fast start in 2010.
"I think that's the name of the game this year," right tackle Eric Winston said. "I think we've proven with everybody that we can play for 55 minutes with anybody, and probably better than most people. We've got to put it together for all 60 and for all year."