Here are five key things to watch for on Sunday when the Texans face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Battle Red Day at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.
Seeing red:The Texans will wear their all-Battle Red uniforms – jerseys, pants, even cleats – for the first of two times in the 2009 season. They're 7-2 all-time in red, including 4-1 against the Jaguars and 4-0 under coach Gary Kubiak.
Players don't think it's a coincidence, and they're looking forward to joining the fans in donning Battle Red once again.
"There's a different atmosphere in the stadium when we have the all red on," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said in a story that will appear in Sunday's *Gameday *magazine. "The fans are hyped up a lot, and as players, we're definitely on another level when we put it on."
Slaton vs. the Jags: After running for a franchise-record 1,282 yards as a rookie, Steve Slaton has struggled in 2009 with only 51 yards on 26 carries (2.0 avg.). The Texans' rushing offense ranks a Gary Kubiak/Alex Gibbs-uncharacteristic last in the league with 50.5 yards per game.
The Texans' first two opponents, the Jets and Titans, were top-seven in rushing defense last season. Slaton is hoping he can turn things around this week against the Jaguars, a team he ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns against last year on Battle Red Day at Reliant Stadium.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Slaton said. "Hopefully, we can build on last year's success."
The biggest problem for Slaton this season has been holding on to the ball. He has three fumbles in two games, already matching the total from his entire rookie season.
"I need to constantly have that on my mind: I've got to protect the ball," he said. "That's my job. I'm going to have a lot of touches, but I've got to limit the fumbles."
Level up for Mario?:Mario Williams has been a terror for opposing defenses on Battle Red Day, recording 6.5 sacks In his last two appearances. His three sacks and one forced fumble keyed the Texans' defense in a 30-17 victory over Jacksonville last December.
The Jaguars gave up four sacks to the Cardinals last week and are the only team in the league with two rookies starting at offensive tackle, Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. Williams recorded his first sack of the season last week at Tennessee and now has an AFC-high 27 sacks since 2006.
Keeping up the intensity:The Texans won a potential statement game last week at Tennessee, a physical, come-from-behind victory on the road over a division rival. But the players know that game means nothing if they don't match it with a similar effort this week.
"Just because of the way we went out and played last week, we can't just be satisfied with that," receiver Andre Johnson said. "It's just something we have to build off of. We have to take it to another level. Every time we go out there on the field, we have to try and take it to the next notch."
Kubiak kept the intensity up in practice this week by pumping in crowd noise. When asked if the Titans game represented an attitude change for his team, Kubiak said that he noticed players holding each other more accountable.
"Good teams are that way," he said. "Good teams are hard on each other. Good teams demand of each other. They don't wait for coaches all the time. That's what we're trying to get this group to be and even when you're doing that, it's still tough to win in this league, but it's something we're getting better at."
Bottling up Jones-Drew:Big plays have been the Achilles Heel of the Texans' defense, in particular in the running game. They've given up 28.4 percent of their league-worst 430 rushing yards on just three plays – a 38-yard run by Thomas Jones and 57- and 91-yard runs by Chris Johnson.
"Some of that's assignment," Kubiak said. "That's why we're continuing to practice in a hostile environment even though we're playing at home. We're having some communication issues, so we've got to get those solved and line up the play."
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored 39 touchdowns since entering the league in 2006. He's widely regarded as one of the toughest players to tackle in the league.
"He's up there, he's definitely up there," linebacker Zac Diles said. "He has a low center of gravity. You have to really bring it to him. You can't think he's going to be down after one person. We all have to swarm to the ball this week."