Five things to watch: Texans vs. Colts

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Here are five things to watch when the Texans take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 on Liberty White Out day at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.

Beginning at 11:45 a.m. CT inside the stadium, there will be extensive pregame ceremonies honoring the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Click here for details.

1. Foster or not:Running back Arian Foster ran for 231 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1 against the Colts last season, but he's questionable this week with a hamstring injury. He will be a game-time decision.

Foster has not practiced since he was injured on Aug. 27, but the reigning NFL rushing champ has been able to run with minimal discomfort during rehab.

If Foster can't play, Derrick Ward would start in his place with Ben Tate next in line. Coach Gary Kubiak said that Steve Slaton is prepared to play as well and that the Texans could end up using all three backs.

Ward, an eighth-year veteran, averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season as Foster's backup. Tate, a second-round pick in 2010, averaged 7.4 yards per carry this preseason after missing his rookie year with an ankle injury.

The Texans said they don't plan to change their game plan much if Foster sits. They ran the ball 42 times for a team-record 257 yards in Week 1 last season. They passed the ball only 17 times, including five passes in the second half when they controlled the ball for 18:48.

2. Manning-less Colts:For the first time ever, Peyton Manning will not be under center when the Colts take on the Texans. Manning is out indefinitely with a neck injury, which will snap his streak of 208 consecutive regular-season starts.

Manning is being replaced by Kerry Collins, 38, who came out of retirement to sign with the Colts on Aug. 24. Collins spent the last five seasons with the Tennessee Titans, going 3-2 against Gary Kubiak and the Texans. He is 0-7 against teams whose defensive coordinator is Wade Phillips.

Collins has thrown for 40,441 career yards with 206 touchdowns and 195 interceptions in his 16-year NFL career.

"This guy can play football," Phillips said. "We know that. If we don't play our best, any game, we don't deserve to win. We got to go out and play our best every game."

Manning, a four-time MVP, is 16-2 all-time against the Texans. He has 5,122 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 110.6 passer rating in those 18 games.

3. Defensive debut:Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense will make its full-fledged Texans debut on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

The Texans ranked fifth in the league in defense and had a team-record 15 sacks in the preseason. That was with Phillips running his base defense, but the gloves should come off in Week 1.

Phillips was hired in January to overhaul a defense that ranked 32nd against the pass and 30th overall last season. He moved ]Mario Williams and Connor Barwin from defensive end to outside linebacker, Brian Cushing inside to Mike linebacker and Glover Quin from cornerback to strong safety.

The 11 starters on the Texans' overhauled defense average 26 years in age. Nine of them were first- or second-round picks, including new additions cornerback Johnathan Joseph, free safety Danieal Manning and rookie defensive end J.J. Watt.

Phillips has had 12 top-10 defenses in his 29 seasons as a defensive coordinator or head coach. The Texans have never finished higher than 13th.

4. Double trouble:While the Colts may not have Manning, they still have a pair of Pro Bowl defensive ends in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Freeney (6-1, 268) has 15.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 16 games against the Texans. Mathis (6-2, 245) has 11.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 15 games.

"They're probably the top tandem in the game," Texans left tackle Duane Brown said. "They love to put pressure on the quarterback and they have a variety of pass-rush moves they can use. We've just got to do our jobs. We're all accountable. We're going out there and whether we want to run the ball, you've got to be ready to do that; and if you have to line up and drop back and pass it, you've got to be able to do that, too."

Freeney, whose spin move is among the league's best, has at least one sack in every game against the Texans since Brown was drafted 26th overall in 2008.

"He's a Hall of Fame-caliber player," Brown said. "He's got the spin move, of course, the patented spin move, but he's also very powerful. He can drive the pocket back if he gets you light on your feet. I've got a pretty good plan going into it. This will be my seventh time going against him, so I've got a pretty good idea of what they expect, and I feel like I'm a lot better than I was last year when we played against them. It's definitely a tough challenge, but one that I'm ready for."

5. Texans' return game:After struggling on kick returns last season and in the preseason, the Texans will use safety Danieal Manning for the first time at kick returner on Sunday.

Manning led the NFL with 29.7 yards per kickoff return in 2008. He averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return in five seasons with the Chicago Bears. He didn't return kickoffs in the preseason as the Texans wanted him to focus solely on learning the defense, but he said this week that it should be second nature.

"Pretty much you're just catching the ball, running the scheme, setting guys up," he said. "We were practicing a little bit (Thursday) in it. I didn't know how it was going to be. I didn't get any reps in preseason, but I'm excited now."

Wide receiver Jacoby Jones will return punts for the Texans on Sunday. Jones has averaged 10.0 yards per punt return in his four-year career and has the team record with two punt returns for touchdowns.

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

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