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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Dolphins


The Texans (0-4) return for their second consecutive game at Reliant Stadium, looking for their first win of the season against a 2-2 Miami Dolphins team that has won its last two games.

Here are five things to watch in the Oct. 12 contest:

1. Texans' tandem of backs to be tested: The emergence of rookie Steve Slaton and the return of Pro Bowler Ahman Green means that Houston has the makings of a potent one-two punch at running back.

Last week against the Colts, Slaton ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns and Green came off the bench to chip in 47 yards rushing on 12 carries.

"It actually excites me because it keeps the defense honest and you've got two different runners interchanging throughout the game," Green said. "Somebody is always fresh every third or fourth play, which is a good thing when you're playing against an aggressive defense."

Going into Week 6, the Texans are averaging 114 yards rushing and 4.4-yards per carry, which is the best in coach Gary Kubiak's three seasons with the team. But they are about to face one of the most improved rush defenses in the league.

Last season, the Dolphins were 30th in run defense and 32nd, dead last, in yards allowed per rush. After four games and holding the Chargers and All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 60 yards on 19 carries, they are No. 7 and No. 6, respectively, in those categories this year. Miami allows only 82.8 yards per game on the ground and 3.3 yards per carry.

Slaton has shown that he can make big plays against stout defenses. He broke out for a 50-yard run by bouncing off the defensive line at Tennessee. The rookie, who Miami coach Tony Sparano this week compared to Barry Sanders, will try to show that same explosive ability on Sunday while Green will look to keep the Texans in manageable first-down situations.

"I think before this thing is all said and done if these two guys can stay healthy, it could be a heck of a tandem as we move forward," Kubiak said.

2. Schaub ready for 3-4: The last time Matt Schaub faced a 3-4 defense, the quarterback was sacked five times by the Steelers and threw one interception. The Steelers may have the most complicated blitz packages in the league, but the Dolphins are doing their best to catch up.

Miami defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni moved Matt Roth from defensive end to outside linebacker. The 6-4, 280-pound Roth has two sacks this season, while Joey Porter has 5.5 at weakside linebacker. Pressure from the outside is one reason Miami has given up only 23 points in the past two games.

"They're difficult," Kubiak said. "For us, it's a lot like playing Dallas, as far as what we saw in the preseason. They're a very physical, 3-4 football team that gives you problems on the edges. So it's given us problems before, and it's something that we've got to really do a good job of preparing for."

{QUOTE}This time around, Schaub thinks the offense will fare much better against a 3-4 defense.

"It's just something different, and in a short amount of time it's very difficult to prepare for," Schaub said. "But I think we've benefited from it because we've seen it a few times already this season, going back to Dallas in the preseason with Pittsburgh and then getting ready for the Baltimore game. So I feel like we're better prepared than most teams might be at this point."

3. Defending against the "Wildcat": The Dolphins have been running their version of the single-wing offense and beating teams with the help of their "Wildcat" formation.

The formation has featured running back Ronnie Brown lining up for a direct snap with quarterback Chad Pennington split out as a possible receiver and running back Ricky Williams going in motion from left to right.

In wins over New England and San Diego, the Dolphins scored five of their seven touchdowns from the "Wildcat" formation. Against the Chargers, Brown gained 49 of his 125 rushing yards on 11 direct snaps, including the game's deciding touchdown.

The Texans have spent the week game planning against the "Wildcat" or a variation of the formation.

"It's basically you're preparing for two offensive football teams," Kubiak said. "You've got to be really sharp and diagnose and identify formations and those types of things. Normally, you've got one guy leading the defensive group, but you've got to have 11 guys watching how they break the huddle, who comes out and what's going on. So confusion is an issue."

The key for the Texans will be recognizing the formation right away.

"They kind of come off the sideline and you don't know what formation they have out there and what personnel," defensive end Anthony Weaver said. "And then before you know it, that 'Wildcat' formation is on you and you're not really set in your defense. As long as you can recognize it early enough, I think we'll be alright."

Containing the tandem of Brown and Williams will be crucial. Miami is averaging 126 yards rushing thanks to the pair.

"Ronnie Brown, he's a stud," Weaver said. "He's a guy that when he gets his hands on the ball, he can break it for a big play at any point. You know that you can't sleep on Ricky, either, back there. While he's gone through some things in his past, you can tell he's back to old form, too. So we've got to prepare for two top-flight backs."

4. Field day for 'Dre?: If there's a weak spot in the Dolphins' defense, it's the secondary. The unit is allowing 206 passing yards per game, which ranks 15th in the NFL.

Will Allen and André Goodman are solid cornerbacks, but they will have their hands full covering Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson - especially Johnson, who exploded for 131 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Colts.

Johnson got into a rhythm in that game by catching hitch passes, but he also went long for a 39-yard reception. The Pro Bowler looked like he was getting separation with any route he ran, and he could do the same thing against Miami's pair of 5-10 starting cornerbacks on Sunday.

5. Houston plays with a chip: The Texans have gotten to a point where they are angry about losing and want to prove to the naysayers that they are better than their 0-4 record.

"This team's angry because our expectations are so high and they still are," Weaver. "Regardless of where we sit at this point, our expectations are still there and guys still know the ability and the talent that we have on this team. We don't plan on going out here and trying to waste a season."

The players almost seemed as if they were playing with a chip on their shoulders, which usually is a good thing in the NFL.

"There's not a guy in here that's not a little upset with the way things have gone for us, especially the last two weeks," right tackle Eric Winston said. "We know we're a better team than where we are. We know we are a better team than we were last year, but now we've got to get out and prove it. We've got to prove it to the rest of the NFL, and it starts this week.

"You don't have a lot of supporters. You don't have a lot of backers. We've got to go out there and play well. We've got to play well for our fans. They were great against the Colts. I don't know if I can remember a louder time in Reliant stadium that has been there. They're going do their part, and we've just got to go do our part and just finish games these games off because we're playing well enough to win."

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