Sunday's preview: Texans at Packers

We've got everything you need to know as Green Bay hosts Houston in a battle of 5-7 teams at Lambeau,

Who: Houston Texans (5-7) at Green Bay Packers (5-7).

Where: Lambeau Field.

When: Noon (Central) on Sunday.

TV: CBS (Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker).

Series: Second regular-season meeting. Packers lead 1-0, with this being the Texans' first trip to Lambeau Field. The last time the teams played, Houston hosted the Packers in 2004 on "Sunday Night Football." The Texans jumped out to a 13-3 lead and controlled most of the game. In the fourth quarter the Packers held the ball for 10:13 and collected 11 first downs as Houston failed to gain one. Green Bay scored 13 points and sealed the win when K Ryan Longwell hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Keys to the game

Schaub's return: Texans QB Matt Schaub is expected to return after missing four games with a knee injury. He and backup Sage Rosenfels are largely responsible for the team's minus-eight turnover margin with their 18 combined interceptions, but Schaub returns to an offense that has a rapidly improving ground game. Rookie RB Steve Slaton has two 100-yard games while averaging 6.4 yards per carry the past three weeks. Considering Schaub faces a secondary with 17 interceptions, Slaton will take aim at Green Bay's 27th-ranked run defense.

Splitting the load?: Packers coach Mike McCarthy hinted backup RB Brandon Jackson could assume more of the workload from Ryan Grant as Green Bay seeks more explosive plays from its ground game. With temperatures expected in the teens, running the ball becomes even more important. The Texans give up 128.8 rushing yards per game and while their secondary isn't deep enough to contain all of the Packers' receivers, Green Bay is wary of the impact DE Mario Williams can have coming off a three-sack game.

Specialties: First-year Packers P Jeremy Kapinos won a four-player audition this week to replace released Derrick Frost; Texans LS Clark Harris — a former Packers draft choice — will replace suspended Bryan Pittman.

Key injuries: Texans: S Will Demps (hamstring) and Nick Ferguson (knee) are questionable. DE Anthony Weaver (knee) is probable. Packers: SS Atari Bigby (shoulder) is out; Grant (thumb) will start; C Scott Wells (concussion) is probable; LB Brandon Chillar (groin) is questionable. Desmond Bishop would take his place.

Inside the Texans

Just an hour after practice on Wednesday, it was clear that Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was back in his familiar position as the team's starter.

His teammates praised his speedy recovery last week when he rejoined practice for the first time since tearing his medial collateral ligament in his knee on Nov. 2. This week as he officially moved back into the starting role, the jokes began.

"He looks like the same old Matt — slow," said right tackle Eric Winston, laughing. "So, there's nothing that's going to change about Matt. But, no, he's fine. He really looks good. Other than that brace he's wearing now, he looks the same running, the same speed. Like I said, he's throwing the ball well. He's moving around, same command in the huddle. He'll be fine."

Last week, Schaub took jabs at his own speed, admitting the large knee brace he will wear this month would be a hindrance if he was speedy or a scrambler.

Nothing could damper Schaub's mood Wednesday. He even seemed genuinely excited about playing in temperatures that could dip as low as 12 degrees at Lambeau Field when the Texans play the Packers.

He doesn't care where the team plays as long as he is back on the field with his teammates.

"I never listened or heard any of those things about being out for the year," Schaub said. "That was all other people talking about that. I knew that I could come back, and I just said, 'I'm going to try to make it back for the last month,' and I've been able to do that, so now it's just time to go play."

Schaub remains ranked 10th in the league with a quarterback rating of 91.0. He's sixth in the league, averaging 251.7 passing yards per game. In the month of October, he put together one of the best stretches of any quarterback in the league.

In his seven starts this year, he has passed for 10 touchdowns and rushed for two. He also has eight interceptions and three lost fumbles.

The main issue for Schaub the past two seasons has been simply staying on the field. This season, he hasn't started more than four consecutive games. The team is hoping he can pick up where he left off in October, however, and string together four strong performances to finish out this season.

"I think anytime you play it's important to your future," coach Gary Kubiak said. "But, he's a young quarterback with not a lot of starts under his belt. (He) has done some very good things but has gone through the injury bug, and you can learn to play through that. It's something that he's got to do and prove to everybody he can do and play good football along the way."

Schaub is 7-11 as a starter the past two years. This week, he will try to earn his first win as a starter on the road since Sept. 16, 2006. He is 0-9 in starts on the road since then, and the Texans realize they have no easy task ahead.

They are looking forward to seeing what may happen with Schaub back though.

"I know everybody is excited for him that he's getting back because he's missed a lot of time in the year," receiver Andre Johnson said. "When he's been healthy, he's played very well and this month is very important to him and our football team. So, from that standpoint, I know everybody is upbeat about him coming back."

Game plan

The forecast for Sunday in Green Bay calls for a high of 18 degrees, purportedly giving the advantage to the Packers as the Texans make their inaugural appearance at Lambeau Field.

Since passing the football will be difficult amid the Arctic conditions, ball control through a sustained rushing attack figures to be the priority for both teams. That could favor Houston, which is armed with diminutive, but speedy rookie Slaton, who has been piling up the yards in recent weeks. Slaton ranks second among the league's featured backs with an average of 5.0 yards per carry. The Packers' 27th-rated run defense is allowing 4.8 yards per rush.

The expected return of Schaub after a four-game layoff because of a knee injury will allow the Texans to be two-dimensional with league-leading receiver Andre Johnson. Al Harris and Tramon Williams would have the one-on-one matchups on Johnson with Charles Woodson at safety for the second straight game. Look for Woodson to play closer to the line of scrimmage as the Packers look to neutralize Houston's rushing attack first and foremost. Green Bay will have to be wary in passing situations of Slaton coming out of the backfield and productive tight end Owen Daniels.

Grant should play after coming out of the last game with a sprained thumb, but the time could be right to get Brandon Jackson equally involved in the run game. Jackson responded in relief of the injured Grant against the Carolina Panthers with 11 carries for a season-high 80 yards. The menacing threat of defensive end Mario Williams coupled with Houston's possible liberal use of blitzing will force quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be quick and decisive with his throws. The Texans' injury-riddled secondary can be exploited.

The Texans' defense will try to keep up its aggressiveness, but it won't be easy. The Packers offense is playing very well and can be very explosive if the defense allows it. The Texans will have to be careful not to be so aggressive that they put themselves out of the ballgame by allowing big plays from the Packers. Pressure will rest on the secondary, especially. They will have to try to contain Aaron Rodgers and his top targets in the passing game.


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