WEEK 6: AT HOUSTON TEXANS
Date: Sunday, Oct. 14. Time: 7:20 p.m. TV: NBC.
2011 record: 10-6. Points scored: 381 (10th). Points against: 278 (4th).
Noteworthy: Might this be a Super Bowl preview? For much of last season, it looked like these were the NFL's top teams. If not for quarterback Matt Schaub's season-ending foot injury, the Texans might have won the AFC championship. Still, Houston earned its first playoff berth behind rookie third-stringer T.J. Yates. Incredibly, the Texans went 3-2 and allowed 19.0 points per game with Mario Williams and went 7-4 and allowed 16.6 without him. The series: The teams have split two previous matchups. Both wins have come on the road, with Green Bay beating Dom Capers' Texans 16-13 in 2004.
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
1. To make sure quarterback Matt Schaub (foot) and receiver Andre Johnson (knee) are healthy and remain healthy after missing a combined 15 starts, including two playoff games, last season. Both sat out the OTAs and minicamp. When healthy, they should again form one of the NFL's best pass-catch duos. Johnson and Kevin Walter, the other starting receiver, turn 31 before camp. The coaches have to find at least one productive receiver to come off the bench in passing situations to replace Jacoby Jones (Baltimore). The next three receivers - second-year veteran Lestar Jean and rookies DeVier Posey (third round) and Keshawn Martin (fourth) - have no NFL receptions. Jean, who played well as an undrafted free agent in camp and preseason a year ago, spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He worked with the first team during OTAs and minicamp.
2. Almost overlooked in the excitement of the Texans being a Super Bowl contender is the rebuilt special teams. Neil Rackers scored a team-record 135 points, but was offered the minimum and signed with Washington. The Texans used a draft pick on a kicker for the first time in Randy Bullock (fifth round). They brought in veteran Shayne Graham to compete with Bullock, a Houston native who won the Lou Groza Award at Texas A&M as a senior last season. He's the first kicker the Texans have drafted. Veteran punter Donnie Jones was signed to replace Matt Turk. Punt returner Jacoby Jones signed with Baltimore. Rookie receiver Keshawn Martin has the inside track on Jones' job. Running back Justin Forsett, another veteran free agent, could return kickoffs. Receiver Trindon Holliday, who couldn't stay healthy in his first two seasons, also will have a chance to return kickoffs.
PLAYER TO WATCH
In two playoff games, rookie J.J. Watt had 3.5 sacks and a touchdown. The coaches raved about him and the substantial improvement he made. If he picks up where he left off, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says Watt can be as good as any player at his position in the league. The coaches love the way the former University of Wisconsin star plays hard until the whistle. At almost 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, he has size, quickness and athleticism. He's stout against the run. He's worked hard to develop more moves as a pass rusher. Whether he's playing left end in the three-man front or left tackle in passing situations, his goal is to explode off the ball, get up the field and be disruptive.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Right guard Antoine Caldwell begins his fourth season under more pressure than any time in his career. He's inherited the starting job vacated by Mike Brisiel (Oakland). Caldwell, a former third-round pick, has flashed as a starter but never could beat out Brisiel. Consistency has been an issue, primarily because of nagging injuries. If he continues to get hurt, rookie Brandon Brooks, a third-round pick, is expected to compete for his job. This is a terrific opportunity for Caldwell. It's the last year of his contract, and if he plays well and stays consistent for the first time, he'll get paid by somebody. If he can stay on the field, running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate will help him look good.
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