IRVING, Texas - In their narrow loss to the Cowboys at Texas Stadium on Friday night, the Texans finally established a consistent running game and had a plus-three turnover margin.
To read about wide receiver Harry Williams, who left the game with a severe spinal injury that will require surgery over the weekend, click here.
Schaub finds a rhythm: The offense struggled early as quarterback Matt Schaub misfired on several throws. Through three possessions, Houston totaled only 10 yards on 13 plays against Dallas' 3-4 defense. Schaub was two-of-eight passing for seven yards on those drives.
"They have an incredible pass rush and they bring a lot of guys blitzing and they have a tremendous secondary, so they provided a lot of different looks that you don't see on a day-to-day basis," Schaub said. "We weren't executing – myself first and foremost. I wasn't sharp early hitting my guys and making my reads, but that's why we play the game. You just move on to the next play and keep at 'em."
Schaub found his rhythm after a Zac Diles interception, leading the Texans on a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 10 in the second quarter. On the drive, Schaub completed passes of nine yards to David Anderson, five yards to Kevin Walter and 19 yards to tight end Owen Daniels before finding Walter for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
"Right there, you just try to make a couple of completions, get the ball out, three-step drop and get it to your guys and start moving the chains and convert a third down, which we did there with David Anderson in the flat," Schaub said. "That kind of got the ball rolling."
With the help of a strong running game, Schaub overcame his rocky start to finish 15-of-27 for 166 yards and a touchdown in three quarters, with a quarterback rating of 86.3.
"I like the way our quarterback battled back," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "Didn't like the way he started, but I like the way he battled back. That's part of being a quarterback."
Brown out with back pain: Running back Chris Brown was slated to start Friday's contest, but did not travel to Dallas with the team after receiving an injection in his back for the second time in the past month to deal with back pain.
The problem flared up during Wednesday's practice for Brown, who missed the first preseason game with the same issue.
"We assumed he was going to be fine," Kubiak said. "(He) woke up Thursday morning with his back continuing to bother him. The doctors felt like he needed another injection, so the minute we did that we had to leave him at home."
Kubiak expects Brown to be back on the practice field this week.
Young backs impress: In Brown's absence, running back Chris Taylor got the start. He, rookie Steve Slaton and second-year pro Darius Walker combined to average 4.3 yards per carry, by far the best output by Texans running backs this the preseason.
Taylor carried 11 times for 47 yards and added a 15-yard reception. Slaton, who came in at the start of the second quarter, had 10 carries for 44 yards in his debut with the Texans' first unit. His 20-yard scamper on the opening drive of the second quarter set up Schaub's touchdown pass to Walter and was the longest run of the game by either team.
Walker contributed 21 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter.
"I thought Chris and Slaton both did some good things," Kubiak said. "I thought that Darius, he hasn't had a lot of work, I thought he ran hard there in the fourth quarter. It's encouraging to know that those three young guys are coming along. That was a good defense they were running against, so depending on where Ahman (Green) is at and where Chris Brown is at, it's nice to know that these guys have had that work."
The strong rushing output against Dallas, whose run defense ranked sixth in the NFL last season, was an especially big step forward for Taylor. The third-year back had totaled only 53 yards on 22 carries (2.4 avg.) in the first two games.
"I feel like I'm ready to rock and roll," Taylor said. "I always feel like I can get better, but I feel like I'm ready. If the season were tomorrow, I can play. I'm ready to roll."
Take it away: The slogan emblazoned on the seat of the practice shorts of Texans defenders – "Take it Away" – finally bore fruit at Texas Stadium.
Houston's defense came up with two timely turnovers in the red zone to keep the Texans in the game. Diles had the first, a momentum-changing interception of quarterback Tony Romo in the end zone with Dallas threatening to go up 17-3.
With the score at 20-13 Dallas in the third quarter, defensive end Mario Williams forced a fumble by Cowboys rookie running back Felix Jones at the Houston nine-yard line. Rookie defensive tackle Frank Okam jumped on the ball at the six to give the Texans possession and renewed life.
"That's what kept us in it, the turnovers," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who had seven tackles. "Zac with the interception and the (Okam) fumble recovery were the biggest plays for our defense."
On special teams, free safety Brandon Harrison forced a fumble that was recovered by strong safety Nick Ferguson on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Houston capitalized on all three turnovers, scoring on Kris Brown field goals of 44, 29 and 23 yards.
The offense, meanwhile, continued to live up to the slogan emblazoned on its practice shorts – "Protect the Ball". The Texans did not commit a single offensive turnover and now have zero through three preseason games.
"I like the fact that we continue to protect the ball on offense," Kubiak said. "That's the thing that kept us in the game against them, them turning it over and us not turning it over."
Nice returns: Though the Texans' kick coverage units struggled at times – yielding a 44-yard kickoff return to Isaiah Stanback and an 18-yard punt return to Adam Jones – their kickoff return unit was outstanding.
Wide receiver André Davis fielded the game's opening kickoff five yards deep in the end zone and ran it 68 yards down to the Dallas 37-yard line, leading to a Texans field goal. Davis, who finished second in the NFL with a 30.3-yard kickoff return average last season, averaged 40.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
Late in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Jacoby Jones took his first kickoff return of the 2008 preseason 52 yards down the right sideline to set up Sage Rosenfels' eight-yard touchdown scramble in the closing minutes.
Still searching for a rush: Kubiak was concerned that Romo had too much time in the pocket with which to make plays. The Texans' only sack of the game – defensive tackle Anthony Maddox's takedown of quarterback Brad Johnson with 1:54 remaining in the fourth – was nullified by a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Derrick Roberson.
That leaves the Texans with one sack through three preseason games.
"Obviously, we're not getting to the quarterback," Kubiak said. "It's a concern. He (Romo) had too much time to make plays back there. Some of the routes that they completed, they belonged to the guys up front, not the secondary. You can't let the kid hold the ball that long.
"We played a lot of people; we moved people around. We'll keep doing it. We'll find somebody that can get there."
Mario Williams hinted that the nature of preseason game preparation may have something to do with the team's struggles to rush the passer.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," Williams said. "Thankfully, we've still got another week. We've just got to work together a little better, not just with the run but against the pass and play off of each other better.
"Also, studying the opponent a lot more wouldn't hurt either. So, we'll see."