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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Titans


The Texans (6-7) look to win their fourth consecutive game Sunday against the Tennessee Titans (12-1). Houston enters the game with the third best offense in the league. The Titans ranks third in defense. Let the showdown begin.

1. Slaton vs. Titans' run defense: Running back Steve Slaton ranks eighth in the NFL with 1,024 yards rushing on 206 carries. He is second in the league in rushing average, at 5.0 yards per carry. The rookie also has nine touchdowns – eight rushing and one receiving.

Even more impressive, Slaton is the only player to have more than 100 yards rushing against the Titans this season. In his first career start in Week 3, he ran for 116 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee.

"I think along the way, there has been some bumps and bruises, but he's gained more and more confidence each week, and the kid has a lot of fun playing," coach Gary Kubiak said. "The long grind of the NFL season, to me, has not really affected him mentally at all. He's really enjoying himself, and you can really see it on the field."

Slaton will face a Titans' run defense that is sixth in the league, giving up just 92.4 yards on the ground. Tennessee plays big upfront and makes it hard for an offensive line to get to second-level defenders and create holes for the running back.

{QUOTE}It will be up to Slaton to use his speed to hit the creases he is given and make plays to move the chains. Plus, he will have to hold up in pass protection.

"That's as good of a football team as you're going to play against," Kubiak said. "So it's a new challenge for him. More is being asked of him right now from a protection standpoint. Our scheme, we're doing more things with him. The way he's maturing and being able to handle more and more gives us a chance to be better as a football team."

2. Schaub vs. Titans' secondary: Quarterback Matt Schaub returned to the huddle last Sunday after missing four games to pass for a team-record 414 yards. He ranks third in the league in completion percentage, hitting 67.7 percent of his throw.

The Titans, however, have been his kryptonite. They rank third against the pass, allowing just 181.4 yards. And they have been able to get excellent pressure upfront, allowing their secondary to fly around make plays.

When the teams met on Sept. 21, Tennessee intercepted Schaub three times with cornerback Cortland Finnegan getting a pick and safety Michael Griffin grabbing two.

"They're a great defense, and it all starts with their front four and the pressure they apply and their ability to stop the run and not have to blitz so much," Schaub said. "Then, they force teams to throw the football, and that's when they can rush the passer and that's when their secondary gets interceptions and big plays. So we just have to stay balanced and stay committed to what we want to do."

Schaub won't have much time in the pocket. He will have to fend off the pass rush and quiet the secondary by keeping the offense in manageable third-down situations.

"You just have to go out there and know that it's coming and just get yourself ready for it," Schaub said. "Just go out there and play and distribute the football, get rid of it. Stay balanced and keep your third downs manageable."

3. Brown vs. Vanden Bosch: Rookie left tackle Duane Brown has come a long way since his second start of the season against the Titans. In that game, Brown gave up a sack to Kyle Vanden Bosch and allowed the Titans to take down Schaub three times.

"They have great guys all across the front -Vanden Bosch to (Albert) Haynesworth to Tony Brown, (Jevon) Kearse - they all work hard and work together and that's what has made them successful throughout the season," Brown said. "They pretty much won the battle the last time we played them. We had the game there, and then they just took control in the fourth quarter.

"Us as an offensive line, we've really taken things like that personal the past few weeks and wanted to put the games on our backs to win it. And we've been able to succeed in that area. We just want to keep the ball rolling. We know they are going bring different looks to us and we know it's going to be a fight for four quarters. But we're at home. We feel like we're a different team now. We're just going to go out there and play."

Brown is coming off a game against the Packers where he didn't allow a sack and helped give Schaub enough time to throw for 414 yards. Brown has been fresher because he is rotating every third series with veteran Ephraim Salaam. And this time around, Brown is determined not to get pushed around or beat on the edge.

4. Texans' run defense vs. Johnson: Running back Chris Johnson, the Titans' first-round pick, ranks sixth in the NFL with 1,094 yards on 222 carries (4.9 avg.). Like Slaton, he has surprised teams with his speed and ability to see the field.

"They're both big-play guys from a speed standpoint," Kubiak said. "When they came out, that was the strength of both of them. I think the fact that how big of a factor they've played on their teams this year so quickly has probably been a surprise to everybody, but two fine young players and have bright futures."

The Titans ground game has been a roll the last two games. Last week, Johnson and LenDale White just missed consecutive tandem 100-yard performances. Johnson ran for 136 yards and White finished with 99, a week after Johnson had 125 yards and White 105 in a victory over Detroit.

Houston's run defense ranks 24th at 127.2 yards allowed per game, and the key for the Texans will be making big tackles upfront.

"I think the only way to stop them is to play team defense," defensive end Anthony Weaver said. "You don't want guys trying to go out there and make heroic plays. You want everybody to stick to the game plan, play within their gap and hopefully the guy runs into you."

Super Mario vs. Roos: With the Texans playing a more aggressive brand of defense, Mario Williams has been given the green light to go after the quarterback more. Super Mario has 11 sacks in though the first 13 games, and that sack total is tied for fifth among defensive ends.

Williams will go against left tackle Michael Roos, who has allowed only one sack this season. The 6-7, 315-pound Roos, a second-round draft pick in 2005, has started every game since entering the NFL and is considered one of the best left tackles in the league.

Most opponents double team Williams, but the Titans think Roos can handle the defensive end one-on-one.

Williams will look to make them pay for making that decision.

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