Here are five things to watch when the Texans (5-0, 2-0 AFC South) take on the Green Bay Packers (2-3, 1-0 NFC North) at Reliant Stadium in Week 6. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. CT on Sunday Night Football.
1. Next Man Up: Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins will make his first start in place of Brian Cushing, the Texans' defensive captain who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.
Dobbins, a seventh-year veteran from Iowa State, is in his second year with the Texans. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2006, when Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was San Diego's defensive coordinator.
Dobbins appeared in 15 games as a reserve last season and made a critical goal-line stop of Ray Rice in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at Baltimore. He was elected the Texans' special teams captain before the season and is tied for the team lead with six special teams tackles.
The Texans signed veteran inside linebacker Barrett Ruud on Wednesday, but he may not play this week on such short notice. Second-year pro Mister Alexander is in the mix behind Dobbins, and outside linebacker Jesse Nading also can play inside.
Cushing leads the Texans' third-ranked defense with 29 tackles and was voted the team's MVP in 2011.
"I'm not him of course, but I will try to do my best to fill in his shoes," Dobbins said. "It's a great system that we have here. I've been running it for years, and I know a little bit about the ins and outs of our system. I'm planning on doing what I do; that's definitely trying to stop the run and keeping this defense going as we've been doing so far."2. Spotlight on Watt: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt got a sack taken away from him this week by Elias Sports Bureau, but that doesn't change the fact that he has had a remarkable start to the season. Sunday's game will be his first time to play against the team he grew up rooting for in Pewaukee, Wis.
Watt walked on at the University of Wisconsin in 2008. He earned a scholarship a year later and became an All-American a year after that before being drafted by the Texans with the 11th overall pick in 2011.
"I grew up a Packers fan, but I am no longer a Packers fan," Watt said on Wednesday. "Every person in Wisconsin watches the Packers on Sundays, so I know they're all going to be watching the game, and I just hope a few of them are wearing 99 jerseys and not green and gold."
Now in his second season, Watt ranks second in the NFL and leads the AFC with 7.5 sacks. He's tied for third in the NFL with eight passes defensed, three more than any other defensive lineman. He has 12 tackles for loss and ranks second on the Texans with 24 tackles.
"I'm so focused and so locked in on the game right now and preparation and week-to-week things, I'm not even nostalgic (about playing the Packers) or anything like that," Watt said. "I'm in a zone right now, and I feel good. I love where I'm at. I'm happy, and I'm excited about another opportunity to play. It doesn't even matter that it's the Packers."
3. Andre10k: Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is on the cusp of 10,000 receiving yards, but he has had an uncharacteristically quiet past four games.
Since catching eight passes for 119 yards and a touchdown against Miami in Week 1, Johnson has put up the following totals: three catches for 21 yards at Jacksonville, two catches for 72 yards and a touchdown at Denver, three catches for 56 yards against Tennessee and one catch for 15 yards at the New York Jets.
That's nine catches for 164 yards in the last four games, an average of 2.25 catches and 41 yards. Johnson averages 5.7 catches and 78.3 receiving yards per game in his career, which rank second and first, respectively, in NFL history.
Johnson's recent stretch has caused consternation among some fans and media, but it should be pointed out that the Texans rank 24th in the league with 152 passing attempts. They haven't had to throw much becaus they have won by an average of 15.2 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL.
Johnson needs 61 yards to reach 10,000. He would become the sixth-fastest player to reach 10,000 in NFL history, doing so in his 128th game, and the sixth active player to reach the mark.
4. Matthews vs. Brown: Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is off to a torrid start, ranking first in the NFL with eight sacks through five games. He'll face off Sunday night with Texans left tackle Duane Brown, who is emerging as one of the best at his position in the NFL.
Matthews, a fourth-year pro who made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, had 2.5 sacks in Week 1 against San Francisco and 3.5 sacks in Week 2 against Chicago, but he has only one sack in two road games this season. The 2009 first-round pick from USC had 29.5 sacks from 2009-11.
"He's the real deal, man," Brown said. "Heck of a player, very versatile, not really one part of his game that you can pinpoint and focus on, so it's a big challenge. Looking forward to it… It's a big stage, and (you've) got to be ready to go."
Brown has not allowed any sacks this season. He allowed only 2.5 in 2011, earning second-team All-Pro honors.
5. Texans D vs. MVP: The Texans rank fourth in passing defense (190.2 yards allowed per game), but they'll face one of their biggest challenges of the season in Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP.
Rodgers threw for 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, setting an NFL record with a passer rating of 122.5. He ranks eighth in the NFL this season with a 96.9 rating, one spot behind Matt Schaub.
Rodgers has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 1,299 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's also a threat as a runner, with 20 carries for 108 yards this season.
Rodgers has been sacked 21 times, second-most in the league. The Texans have 15 sacks, tied for sixth in the league. This could be the game that outside linebacker Connor Barwin finally gets on the board with his first sack of the season. Linebacker Brooks Reed also could add to his 2012 total of 2.5 sacks.