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Houston Texans

Five things to watch: Texans vs. Jags


Running back Steve Slaton will carry the load more than ever with Ahman Green out for the rest of the season.

The Texans kick off the last month of the season with their first appearance on Monday Night Football against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 1 at Reliant Stadium. The Texans host Battle Red Day, wearing red jerseys and red pants, and they are 6-2 in red jerseys.

1. 'Dre goes prime time: Wide receiver Andre Johnson has been looking forward to a prime-time game on Monday night since the Texans selected him third overall in the 2003 draft. He finally will get his chance to light it up on Monday Night Football and show the nation why he's the league's leading receiver with 81 catches for 1,071 receiving yards.

The key player standing in his way is Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis, who held Johnson to three catches for 38 yards in their Sept. 28 game.

"I think Rashean is a great cornerback and a great athlete," Johnson said. "I think he's one of the top cornerbacks in the league. I think he has great ball skills, and every time I go against him, it's a challenge.

"He's the type of guy who can go out there and just shut a guy down. Every time I go against him, I just have to make sure I'm on top of my game and ready to play."

Johnson has been at the top of the game for most of the season, topping the 100-yard mark six times this year. He's kept defenses guessing by lining up at the x and z positions and running slant and post routes.

But getting space from Mathis won't so easy. The cornerback did an excellent job of taking away the Pro Bowler's deep routes in their Week 4 contest.

"You have to pick your spots," Johnson said. "They're not just going to let you go out there and just throw deep routes."

In nine outings against Mathis, Johnson has averaged 5.7 catches for 70.9 yards; meanwhile, the cornerback has three pass breakups and no interceptions. Putting 'Dre under the prime-time lights, however, could lead to him putting up some big-time numbers.

2. Game planning against Garrard: The Jags may have a two-headed monster in their backfield with running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but quarterback David Garrard beat Houston with his feet last time the teams met.

Garrard led all rushers with 41 yards and ran for a touchdown. The 245-pounder also scrambled for first downs when his team needed them most. On third-and-10 just inside Texans territory, he ran for 13 yards. Four plays later on fourth-and-8, he went up the gut for nine yards. He finished the fourth-quarter drive with a five-yard touchdown run.

"It's just tough in man coverage to account for the quarterback, unless you have a guy that's spying on the quarterback," Garrard said. "I just felt like I was trying to go through my reads and trying to hit the open guys, but sometimes you get flushed, sometimes your first two reads are covered and you can feel a lane and I would take off."

In that game, the Texans played man coverage with two high safeties, making it tough for Garrard to find open receivers. The Texans also played stout in the box, holing Taylor and Jones-Drew to a combined 57 yards rushing. But they left holes open for Garrard, who isn't afraid to take on linebackers.

"We did a good job of covering the guys, but he (Garrard) did a better job of running with his feet and making plays on crucial downs like third and fourth down," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Running the ball is something I guess we weren't really expecting or weren't ready for, and they burned us on that."

{QUOTE}Now, the Texans are prepared. They are coming off their best defensive effort of the season, forcing a season-high five turnovers at Cleveland and blitzing 11 times.

The Texans will need to bring the heat and be prepared to stop Garrard on the ground. Garrard ranks 10th in the NFL in passing with 2,461 yards and leads all quarterbacks with 221 rushing yards heading into this week's games.

3. It's all Slaton: With running back Ahman Green on injured reserve for the rest of the season, the load falls on the shoulders rookie Steve Slaton.

The 5-foot-9, 201-pounder was a little beat up last week when he for 73 yards last after compiling 156 in his previous game, the second-highest total in franchise history.

But he benefited from the team's three-day break this week to recover from a chest injury he suffered on Nov. 16 at Indianapolis and he's ready for his shot on MNF.

"It was always a dream to get to this point," Slaton said. "Now, you've just got to perform. There are a lot of people who are going to be watching. I've got to bring my 'A' game."

Slaton's carries should increase against Jacksonville, and coach Gary Kubiak thinks the rookie can handle more snaps. Kubiak just doesn't want the Slaton getting beat up like he did after participating in 69 plays against the Vikings.

"He's very capable of playing 45, 50 plays a game," Kubiak said. "He's shown that. He's having a heck of a year. He's right there battling with some of these other guys around the league."

Slaton had just 33 yards on 10 carries in his first meeting with Jacksonville, but he also caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the overtime game. Slaton took advantage of the coverage swarming Johnson, and quarterback Matt Schaub was able to check the ball down field to the running back.

This time around, Slaton could look to use his speed on the ground to beat the Jags' front seven. The Texans enter the game ranked 14th in the league in rushing with 114.1 yards per game.

4. Schaub or Sage: Quarterback Matt Schaub played a nearly perfect game against the Jags earlier this season. In the 30-27 overtime loss, Schaub threw for 307 yards and completed three touchdown passes. He wasn't sacked. He looked mobile in the pocket and scrambled for first downs.

This time around, it's uncertain if Schaub will dress for the game. The quarterback began practicing with the team this week for the first time since injuring his MCL on Nov. 2 and said his knee is starting to feel "really good."

Schaub took reps with the first team and Kubiak said he will go back and evaluate footage of practice to decide if Schaub will play on Monday. If Schaub is ready, he will back up Sage Rosenfels.

"He's gotten better each day," Kubiak said. "What we're going to do is go back and evaluate his practice. He took all the reps today with the scout team. We're going to evaluate it - me and Kevin (Bastin) and Rick (Smith), we'll all sit down.

"If we feel good about his practice, then he will go into the game as the backup. But if we don't feel good about it, he won't be the third; he won't suit up. He'll either be in a back up role or he won't suit up."

Rosenfels led the Texans to their first road win of the season at Cleveland, but he has struggled with turnovers this year. Rosenfels is completing 68 percent of his passes and has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Jacksonville won't pressure Rosenfels too much, but he is going to have to make better decisions and protect the ball to prove on national television that he can be an NFL starter.

The Texans have won the turnover battle twice this season, against Cincinnati and Cleveland, and they won both games.

5. Monday night lights: Andre Johnson is one of 29 players on the Texans' 53-man roster that has not played in a Monday night game. The Pro Bowl receiver is the first player in the league this season to record 1,000 receiving yards, but he and the Texans often are overlooked by the national media.

The players hope this game will show the NFL fans what they've been missing.

"I think it can, because a lot of people really don't know who we are, don't know the type of players that we have here," Ryans said. "For us, it's a chance to showcase and go out and show people what the Houston Texans are all about.

"If you play great on Monday night, everybody's watching, so everybody's going to see you and see what you're doing on Monday night. People don't forget how you perform on Monday night."

The players got a taste of the national spotlight last season when they hosted the Denver Broncos on Thursday night on the NFL Network. In the 31-13 win, Mario Williams garnered hype as one of the most dominant defensive ends in the league after sacking quarterback Jay Cutler three times.

"Last year, we played on Thursday night and it was the biggest game of my life," Williams said. "You know, just to be out there under the lights in a prime-time game on Thursday night, and now it's Monday night. Hopefully, we'll go out there and we'll do the same thing."

Kubiak expects his team to rise to the occasion and do just that.

"We don't have many guys that have been Monday night games," Kubiak said. "Pulling into work this week, seeing those trucks is a little different for them in what they go through. But I just want them to see us as a group of guys playing hard and making some progress and making some plays. That's what it's all about. We stepped up and made some plays last week. We need to make more plays against Jacksonville this week."

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