Here are five things to watch for when the Texans (5-4) take on the Tennessee Titans (3-6) on Monday Night Football at Reliant Stadium. The Texans will be wearing their red uniforms with white pants for the 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff.
Fans are encouraged to wear red and arrive early. Parking gates open at 3:30 p.m.
Turning up the heat:Don't look now, but a heated AFC South rivalry is emerging with the Texans having won their last two meetings with the Titans.
Houston's 34-31 victory in Nashville in Week 2 included scrums between wide receiver Andre Johnson and Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan as well as Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones and the Texans' bench. Jones was ejected from the game; he later received a fine, as did Johnson and Texans receiver Jacoby Jones. Right tackle Eric Winston got into it with defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch during the game as well.
As if that weren't enough, Titans players added flames to the rivalry fire with heated trash talk this week. Linebacker Keith Bulluck likened the Texans to distant cousins, saying, "we don't really acknowledge them." He also mocked the way the Texans celebrated their Week 2 victory, remarking that it seemed like it was the AFC Championship Game.
Bulluck added that he hopes to come to Houston and destroy the Texans' playoff hopes, while tight end Bo Scaife said "we owe them" in reference to the Texans' recent victories. The Texans took the high road this week when asked about the bulletin board material.
"You can talk all you want to, but we let our helmets and shoulder pads do the talking," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
A physical game is on the horizon.
Primed for prime time: Defensive end Mario Williams has four sacks in nine games this season. In his last two prime-time games, Williams recorded 6.5 sacks.
"I'm glad we have a primetime game coming up," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "Maybe after this game, he'll have 9.5 sacks."
In the Texans' inaugural Monday Night Football game last December, Williams sacked Jaguars quarterback David Garrard three times and forced a fumble in a 30-17 Texans victory. In 2007, Williams had a career-high 3.5 sacks in a Thursday night game against the Denver Broncos.
So what gives?
"I don't know," Williams said. "Every game is going to be different. Hopefully, we can go out and do the same thing as a team and get a victory."
Williams played through a shoulder injury for much of the season before getting to rest it on the bye.
"I know his sack numbers aren't big, but he's been getting some pressure on the quarterback and he's played well this year and I think he's back to 100 percent healthy," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think last week helped him. Obviously, we need him playing at a high level for us to move forward."
Andre the giant:The Titans have brought out the best out in Andre Johnson, who tends to play at a pretty high level to begin with. In Johnson's last two games against Tennessee, he has a staggering 21 catches for 356 yards and three touchdowns.
In Week 15 of the 2008 season, Johnson posted a career-high 207 receiving yards in a 13-12 victory at Reliant Stadium. He scored a touchdown in that game on a leaping catch over Titans cornerback Nick Harper.
Earlier this season against the Titans, Johnson had 149 receiving yards and two touchdowns – one a season-long 72-yarder, the other a spectacular one-handed catch from 19 yards out. He also got into a shouting match with Finnegan, the feisty corner who is no stranger to jawing.
"I just go out and play," Johnson said. "I think he just does things to try and get in your head and whatnot… You can't really worry about that."
Kubiak was asked about the competition between Johnson and Finnegan.
"I think Andre plays big all the time, but they obviously have a heck of a competition going," Kubiak said. "You're talking about a Pro Bowl corner, Pro Bowl receiver, and they see each other twice a year, so it's naturally very competitive between the two of them."
Chris Johnson rematch:The Texans will be eager for another crack at Chris Johnson, the league's leading rusher by far through nine games with 1,091 yards.
Johnson ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans in Week 2. This week, he said he was disappointed not to get 200 yards in the game and that he hopes to reach that mark on Monday night.
"I don't care what he says," Texans safety Bernard Pollard said in reply. "I wasn't here the first time they played, and I'm not trying to say I would have stopped anything; all I'm saying is, this is a new season. We've been through the bye week, we're refreshed.
"We're going to show up, we're going to hit you just like our defense knows how. We know how to hit, be in the right position, and we're going to get the ball away."
Johnson scored on touchdown runs of 91 and 57 yards against the Texans in Week 2. He also had a 69-yard touchdown reception, a play on which he was left wide open at the line of scrimmage near the left sideline.
Plays like that have disappeared since Pollard entered the starting lineup in Week 4. In the six games since, the Texans have the league's best rushing defense with 60.5 yards allowed per game. Cornerback Jacques Reeves wasn't on the field in Week 2 as he recovered from a preseason injury, and linebacker Brian Cushing and cornerback Dunta Robinson have made steady improvement after both missing the preseason.
The Texans have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last six games.
Young's return:The Titans are 3-0 since quarterback Vince Young re-entered the starting lineup after the team's 0-6 start. The Madison High School product also is 3-0 against his hometown Texans, though he never has thrown for more than 250 yards against Houston and last played them in 2007.
In his last game at Reliant Stadium, Young scored the winning touchdown on a 39-yard run in overtime as a rookie in 2006.
"I'm trying to forget that one," Ryans said. "This is a different team, and we are looking to get a win against these guys. (Young) brings a different dynamic to their team and he's been getting it done for them. He's been winning games for them, and we have to find a way to slow him down."
Young has had a rating of 90.4 or higher in each of his three starts this season. He's 44-of-62 (71.0 percent) with 507 passing yards and two touchdowns.
The former University of Texas star has been sacked just once and has one interception, the Titans' only turnover in the last three games. With the Titans running the option with Young and Chris Johnson, Young has 73 rushing yards and a touchdown with six rushing first downs.
"You watch him in a lot of third- and fourth-and-shorts, he's converting with his legs," Robinson said. "He's keeping a lot of drives alive with his legs and doing a good job of getting the ball to the receivers."