Here are five things to watch on Sunday when the Texans (3-1) face the Oakland Raiders (2-2) in Week 5 on Hispanic Heritage Day at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is at noon CT.
1. Foster's feast?: Texans running back Arian Foster had 30 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown in the Texans' 17-10 victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday, showing no ill effects from the hamstring injury that kept him out of two of the first three games. The 2010 NFL rushing leader scored the game-winning touchdown on a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter, and his rushing total was the highest by any player against the Steelers since 2003.
Foster could take on an even more prominent role with Andre Johnson sidelined by a hamstring injury. The Texans ran the ball on 15 of the 24 plays after Johnson was injured last week, and their backfield depth has been thinned out by injuries. Chris Ogbonnaya will likely be Foster's backup, while Ben Tate (groin) or Derrick Ward (ankle) is expected to be available as a third option.
Last season at Oakland, Foster had 133 yards on 17 carries, including a career-long 74-yard touchdown run, despite being held out of the first quarter for disciplinary reasons. The Texans ran for 249 yards and passed for only 192 in that game. The Raiders have been vulnerable on the ground this season, ranking 29th in rushing defense (136.0 yards/game) and 32nd in yards allowed per carry (5.91).
2. Run DMC: Foster led the league in rushing last season. Raiders running back Darren McFadden holds that distinction through four games in 2011.
McFadden (6-2, 210) has 468 rushing yards and three touchdowns, averaging a league-high 6.2 yards per carry. He also has 15 catches for 132 yards and a score. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips compared him to Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson this week for his quick feet, tremendous burst and powerful style.
The fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, McFadden ran for a career-high 1,157 yards in 2010 after being slowed by injuries in his first two seasons. A threat to score on any play, he has reeled off a run of 40-plus yards in three of the Raiders' four games this season. That includes a career-long 70-yard touchdown against the Jets in Week 3, a game in which he averaged 9.0 yards per carry.
McFadden has at least 150 rushing yards in the Raiders' two victories but has been limited to a combined 147 yards in their two losses. The Texans are tied for 18th in rushing defense (108.8 yards per game) and rank 27th in yards allowed per carry (4.94).
3. Replacing 80: It's safe to expect plenty of rushing attempts from both teams, but the Texans also have the tall task of trying to replace Johnson in the passing game.
Jacoby Jones will start in Johnson's place. He started three times for Johnson last season, catching 11 passes for 200 yards (18.2 per catch) in those games. That included a career-best 115 yards on five receptions at Denver in Week 16.
The Texans will try to replace Johnson's production from a variety of spots. Without Johnson last season at Oakland, tight end Joel Dreessen led the team with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Walter had four catches for 35 yards and Foster had three for 56 and a touchdown. Running back Steve Slaton had two catches for eight yards. Jones had one catch for 12, and tight end Owen Daniels had one catch for eight yards as he was dealing with a hamstring injury.
Daniels figures to be the Texans' top target as long as Johnson is out. He had a team-high six catches for 59 yards against the Steelers, a game in which no Texans wide receiver besides Johnson caught a pass. Fullback James Casey, who had five catches for 126 yards in Week 3, also could see more balls thrown his way. He had only one catch for eight yards with a fumble in Week 4. Foster also should continue to be heavily involved in the passing game.
4. So much speed: The Raiders have speed all over the field, particularly on the edge at wide receiver and cornerback.
Raiders players have recorded four of the six fastest 40-yard dash times at the NFL Scouting Combine since 2008: wide receiver Jacoby Ford (4.28), cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28), receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30) and strong safety Tyvon Branch (4.31). Cornerback Stanford Routt ran a 4.27 in 2005. McFadden ran a 4.33 in 2008. Third-year receiver Louis Murphy ran a 4.33, and rookie receiver Denarius Moore and sixth-year receiver Derek Hagan ran 4.45s.
The Texans have speed of their own at cornerback to contend with the Raiders' receivers. Johnathan Joseph ran a 4.31, Jason Allen a 4.39 and nickel corner Brice McCain a 4.33. That should come in handy as Houston tries to limit Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell, who has nine passes of 25 yards this season, from connecting on deep balls.
5. Sack attack: The Texans are tied for fifth in the league with 12 sacks, but Campbell has been sacked only twice this season behind stellar protection from his offensive line. One of those sacks came when he got his feet tangled up with McFadden in the backfield.
Getting pressure on Campbell will be critical to limiting his ability to air it out deep. Campbell has a 105.4 passer rating in his last five road starts, completing 65.1 percent of his passes with 1,024 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. He has an efficient 89.1 passer rating this season.
The Texans have been generating pressure from all over the front seven in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. Outside linebacker Mario Williams and defensive end Antonio Smith are tied for the team lead with four sacks apiece. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin has two sacks, and defensive end J.J. Watt and nose tackle Shaun Cody both have one.
Campbell played against Phillips-coached Dallas Cowboys defenses five times from 2007-09 with the Washington Redskins. He was 1-4 in those games with an 80.2 passer rating, five touchdowns and four interceptions. He was sacked at least once in each game, four times in his last meeting with Phillips' Cowboys and 11 times overall.