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Texans' defense seeing double


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Texans cornerback Demarcus Faggins paused a moment and then gave his game plan for San Diego: Keep your eye on LaDanian Tomlinson at all times and don't go to sleep on Antonio Gates.

Simplified, very. Good advice, yes. Guaranteed to work? It remains to be seen.

Much more intricate game plans have failed to slow either offensive force of the Chargers, especially Tomlinson, who established 13 NFL records last season and was named the league's Most Valuable Player.

The Texans can take some degree of comfort because--for Tomlinson--it's a slow start this season. He's only third in the NFL with 737 total yards from scrimmage and he's tied for fourth with seven touchdowns.

The Texans aren't fooled.

"He's the best in the league," Faggins said. "He's got great feet, great vision coming out of the backfield. He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. You've got to know where he is at all times."

Gates has been a favorite target for quarterback Philip Rivers. Gates leads all NFL tight ends with 43 catches and 17 third down catches. He has three 100-yard games this season and, if you're into numbers, his 100-yard performances have come in weeks 1, 3 and 5. Yes, Sunday is week seven.

"You can't sleep on him," Faggins said. ``He's not really a tight end, he's a receiver. He's (Rivers) always looking for him as a passing threat."

{QUOTE}Tomlinson, Gates and Rivers all earned Pro Bowl status last season. Still, Tomlinson is the big headache.

"He's a game breaker, the best I've ever seen," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath. Not only does he hurt you running the ball, he's going to catch the ball 7-10 times a game on screens and things.

"It's our biggest challenge for the defense this year."

Wow. That's not very encouraging to a defense that started the season strong against the run but has faltered since.

"Right now, he's the best back in the league and we haven't been doing very well against the run," defensive end N.D. Kalu said. "So this is a challenge for us and it's a challenge we accept. Hopefully, we'll have a good game against him and get the swagger back that we started the season with."

The Texans' defense needs more sacks before it can have more swagger. They've dropped to 20th in the NFL against the run. The Chargers are 13th in rushing at 125.3 yards per game. That's good enough to make the Texans' defense worry and the Texans' offense jealous. Houston ranks 31st in rushing.

"When you watch the film, when we were playing good, everyone was in their gaps and we were assignment sound," Kalu said. "Now, it seems we're missing tackles, guys are out of gaps.

"A couple of times, I got blocked out of my own gap. That's a couple of things I could look at and help against the run game. I'm sure if each of us improves one or two things we've been doing against the run game, we can get back to where we were to start the season."

Linebacker Danny Clark anticipates a typical Tomlinson performance.

"He's the best back I've played against," Clark said. "I've been in the division with this guy and he's an exceptional talent and a great guy off the field. We definitely have to get all our attention focused on stopping him and their running game."

Rookie cornerback Fred Bennett will be seeing Tomlinson for the first time.

"It's not a kept secret," Bennett said. "The guy's a great running back, well respected in this league. We've just got to bring our A-game. We know what we have to do week in and week out.

"We can't take any running back or any team lightly. This is the NFL. We know who we're going up against this week. We have to strap on the pads and come to play."

Clark agrees with Faggins on watching out for Gates.

"They've got a team with nine Pro Bowlers on it from last year and Gates is the best in the business at what he does," Clark said. "He's a pass reception tight end that gets open and makes plays. He's a guy we have to contain as well.

"I'm just happy to be playing against one of the better teams in the league and see how we match up."

The Texans also must face wide receiver Chris Chambers for the second time this season. The Chargers got Chambers from Miami on Oct. 16. Chambers had two catches for 19 yards in the Dolphins' loss to the Texans on Oct. 7.

Chambers also had a big day against the Texans in 2003 with two touchdowns and 118 yards receiving.

"We've just got to go get a win," Clark said. "That's what this league is about. We don't believe in moral victories. We played solid enough to win (in Sunday's 38-36 loss to Tennessee) and we didn't get it done.

"At the end of the day, our character never faltered. It will not the rest of this season. We're going out to compete to win."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.
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