Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (5-7) take on the Seattle Seahawks (5-7) in Houston in Week 14. It's only the second meeting in series history between the two teams, and the first at Reliant Stadium.
Cushing vs. Curry:Aaron Curry and Brian Cushing were the first two linebackers off the board in the 2009 draft, and they'll be on the same field at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
Curry, drafted fourth overall out of Wake Forest, has played in every game and recorded 55 tackles, including 48 solo. He has two sacks and six passes defensed.
"He's an impressive kid," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "When he came in our room in Indianapolis (at the NFL Scouting Combine), he looked like a defensive end. He's big, he can run, he can do everything. He's smart. He's very, very impressive."
Cushing, the 15th overall pick out of USC, is a leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He leads all rookies and is tied for fifth in the league with 102 tackles. He has 1.5 sacks and nine passes defensed, and his team-high three interceptions are the most by any linebacker in the AFC.
"We liked him coming out, and watching him on film, that hasn't changed," Seahawks head coach Jim Mora said. "I think he's a very, very good player. He's got a great work ethic. He's very driven. I'm not surprised at all to see him playing the way he's playing."
Cushing was asked this week if he feels any competition with Curry since Curry was drafted higher.
"I don't, but that's something that is definitely in the back of my mind," he said. "I obviously know that. My main goal is to go out and perform as well as I can and help the team as best I can."
Schaub's shoulder:Quarterback Matt Schaub is expected to play without limitations on Sunday, a week after dislocating his left shoulder at Jacksonville. He was a full participant at practice all week and officially is listed as probable on the injury report.
As he did after returning from the injury against the Jaguars, Schaub will wear a protective brace on his left shoulder this week. He said the brace does not limit his throwing ability.
"It's my non-throwing shoulder so, I can still get the torque in my upper body rotation and everything," Schaub said. "I'll be good."
It's hard to overstate Schaub's importance to the Texans' offense. He has six 300-yard passing games this season and ranks fourth in the NFL with 3,449 passing yards. With Schaub on the bench for four series last week, the Texans fell behind 17-0 and gained only 67 yards in backup quarterback Rex Grossman's first action of the season.
The Seahawks have the NFL's 25th-rated pass defense, allowing 243.5 yards per game, and have struggled against big receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin this season. That's good news for Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson, who's coming off of a seven-catch, 99-yard performance at Jacksonville.
Hobbling Hasselbeck:Three-time Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks' own banged-up No. 8 named Matt, also is listed as probable for the game. Hasselbeck did not practice on Wednesday because of an injured right shoulder after being sacked five times on Sunday against the 49ers.
Hasselbeck, 34, missed a couple of games earlier this season with a rib injury.
"I've been playing them two games a year for five years," said defensive end Antonio Smith, formerly of the NFC West's Arizona Cardinals. "he way to get to them is to get to Hasselbeck, rough him up a little bit and get sacks and big plays and turnovers,"
Hasselbeck has thrown for 2,153 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 10 games this season. He was a crisp 25-of-34 (73.5 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks' 20-17 victory over San Francisco in Week 13.
"When he gets hot, he can light you up," Kubiak said.
Foster's debut:With Steve Slaton now on injured reserve, Chris Brown will make his second consecutive start at running back. Last week against the Jaguars, Brown carried six times for 15 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 11 yards and threw an interception on a halfback pass near the goal line.
Brown will work in tandem with Ryan Moats, who had 12 carries for 41 yards and three catches for 24 yards at Jacksonville, and rookie Arian Foster, who will play on offense for the first time.
Projected as a high draft pick after a 1,193-yard, 12-touchdown season as a junior at Tennessee, Foster went undrafted on the heels of a disappointing senior year. He gained just 570 rushing yards in a tumultuous season for the Volunteers that ended with coach Phillip Fulmer's forced departure from the school.
The Texans made Foster a priority free agent signing agent after the draft, and he spent the first nine weeks of the season on the practice squad before being called up to the active roster.
"He's practiced well, he's done well for Joe (Marciano) on special teams, and now it's time to see if maybe he can take another step with us offensively," Kubiak said. "We've been impressed with the kid's work; he's come a long way.
"I hope I come out of the game and he touches it five times and gives me a reason to give it to him 10 times. So let's see, but we're going to make sure he touches it and we'll see where we go from there."
Seeking consistency:With the Texans' record at 5-7, Andre Johnson said this week that the frustrating thing about the season has been the team's inability to play consistent football for 60 minutes.
"I think that is, besides us putting ourselves in bad situations with penalties and things like that," Johnson said. "You see the talent. You look at the team and can tell that the talent is there. It's just up to us to put it together."
The Texans scored three points in the first half of a 20-17 loss at Indianapolis in Week 8. In their next game, they scored three points in the second half of a 20-17 loss to the Titans. They had a 17-0 lead in a home loss to the Colts in Week 12 and nearly came back from a 17-0 deficit at Jacksonville last Sunday. Their last four losses have come by an average of 4.75 points.
Late miscues including dropped passes, penalties and turnovers – the Texans have committed a fourth-quarter turnover in three of their last four games - have been a factor. To try to remedy those problems, Kubiak changed the Texans' practice routine on Friday to include double the amount of walkthrough reps.
"I'm hoping that some change in what we're doing, getting some more mental reps on Friday, some of the mistakes we've been making in football games, hopefully we'll find a way to cure some of those," Kubiak said.