Head coach Gary Kubiak told the media Monday that wideout Andre Johnson's return brought a renewed sense of swagger to his teammates in their 23-10 win over the New Orleans Saints. Johnson finished the game with six catches for 120 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown.
Rally and tackle: Texans defensive coordinator Richard Smith didn't have any tricks up his sleeve Sunday. He boiled the defensive strategy down to two simple elements: stay in base coverages and "rally and tackle."
Simple seemed to work as the Texans delivered arguably their best defensive effort of the season.
"Taking a look at ourselves during the bye, we said this is kind of what we do best," head coach Gary Kubiak said of Smith's plan. "We wanted to come out at some games and as we move forward say we're not going to give up big plays. We've been giving up some big plays. We were playing a team yesterday that if you got locked up in man coverage, they had a couple of players that could really hurt you."
Those players, namely quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush, ended up the ones being harassed. Led by Mario Williams, who recorded his fifth sack of the season, the defensive line pressured Brees into throwing two interceptions. The Saints gained only 47 yards on the ground and the defense held Bush to 2.3 yards per carry and 34 total yards rushing.
All of this was done with a new-look secondary and without star cornerback Dunta Robinson, who went down for the season in Week 9 with a torn ACL and hamstring.
"It's funny, when you have problems in this league, sometimes guys kind of bond together and find another level of play," Kubiak said. "I think the coaches, Richard (Smith) and the staff, deserve a lot of credit for the way they settled them down and said, 'Hey, here's how we're going to fix our problems in the secondary and here's how we're going to play.'"
Cornerback Von Hutchins, who moved to safety for eight games after Jason Simmons went down in the home opener, went back to corner and grabbed his second career interception.
"Von went out there and probably was as comfortable as a player as he's ever been," Kubiak said. "I really think that's probably where he feels like he belongs. We moved him to safety this year to help our team, but it was about the group. The group played extremely well."
Williams plays big: No Texan played bigger than the team's big man, defensive end Mario Williams, who recorded six tackles and sacked Brees for a 10-yard loss.
"The kid is really playing well," Kubiak said. "He was very disruptive. He's getting a lot of double teams. He's getting a lot of attention, and even now that's not starting to bother him."
Nothing really seemed to faze Williams as he rushed the passer from various spots along the defensive line.
"We took it to a new level yesterday, moved him around in nickel," Kubiak said. "Basically, we let him freelance a little bit and just get to his assignment when the ball was snapped."
The new spots suited him, as did the new stance. The defensive end started most plays standing up instead of crouching in a three-point stance.
"When he plays standing up, he's seeing the ball much clearer," Kubiak said. "He's seeing a lot of backfield action, making some plays that he hadn't been making with his hand down."
Not his call: After official Mike Carey ruled tight end Owen Daniels had fumbled the ball when clobbered by the Saints' Mike McKenzie and Scott Shanle, Kubiak furiously challenged the call.
"My argument with Mike (Carey) was that the kid was out on the ground with a broken nose and he's got the ball by his leg with his hand on the ball," Kubiak said. "The play is over and they let the guy come in a take the ball away from him. I think the play was dead, and I still feel that way."
Kubiak sent the play to the NFL and waiting for their response.
"It doesn't mean I'm right, but you have to battle for what you think is right," Kubiak said. "I thought the kid was doing all he could to sit there and say, 'I've got the ball, but I'm lights out right and now and I've got a broken nose.' I don't think they took that into consideration."
Daniels left the game briefly to have his nose cracked back into place and returned to register fives catches for 74 yards. The tight end is expected to be fine for Sunday's game against Cleveland.
"We don't think he'll have to get any work done," Kubiak said. "He's just not going to look very good for a while."
Green's status: Running back Ahman Green will likely be day-to-day for the rest of season as he nurses a knee that has bothered him since Week 3.
That means backup Ron Dayne, who has rushed for 211 yards in the last two victories over Oakland and New Orleans, will be the starter. Adimchinobi Echemandu will back up Dayne.
Kubiak is now deciding if he will activate practice squad running back Darius Walker. The rookie out of Notre Dame has impressed the head coach with his effort in practice.
"We are definitely going to get him involved," Kubiak said. "He'll be working with the offense this week and then we'll make a decision as far as activating him. But I think Ronnie's the constant, and from there we've just got to give those other kids a chance."
Kubiak does not plan to put Green on injured reserve.