KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans' front seven is abundantly athletic, making its down-to-down chess match with Panthers QB Cam Newton, who has 28 total touchdowns, anticipated viewing. Newton must be right when reading pre-snap keys to determine from what direction the Texans will bring pressure. The Texans haven't been guarded with play selection for QB T.J. Yates. The promising rookie, backed by the NFL's top-ranked defense and the only duo of running backs in the league with 800-plus yards apiece, has leaned on TEs Joel Dreesen and Owen Daniels as security blankets. The Texans' play-action game should thrive with Carolina's revolving door at defensive tackle and linebacker weakening the run defense significantly.
FAST FACTS: The Panthers have allowed an average of 12.5 points in the fourth quarter of their six road games this season. ... Texans opponents have a cumulative passer rating of 62.6 with 17 interceptions.
The Texans want to get their second-ranked running game cranking against Carolina. With defensive coordinator Wade Phillips sidelined after undergoing surgery on his kidney and gall bladder, they want to control the ball and keep the Panthers' fifth-ranked offense on the bench.
The Texans know the Panthers have led in 12 of 13 games. They don't want to get into the habit of playing catch-up the way they did in the 20-19 victory over Cincinnati.
Yates, 6-4, 220, is more mobile than Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, both of whom are on injured reserve. At Cincinnati, Yates ran five times for 36 yards - a 7.2-yard average. On third-and-15 on the game-winning drive, he ran for 17 yards.
Yates is no Cam Newton, of course, but if the Panthers are in man coverage, and his receivers are locked up in coverage, Yates has been encouraged to take off by coach Gary Kubiak.
Carolina is tied for 23rd in run defense, allowing 128.9 yards a game. Jacksonville and Cincinnati shut down Foster by using the corners to basically create a nine-in-the-box scheme to keep him from making his cutback.
After Yates threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns to lead the come-from-behind victory, the Panthers might shy away from that approach because it leaves their safeties vulnerable down the field. Yates doesn't like to dump off the ball. He prefers to go down the field.
The Texans lead the league with an average time of possession of 33 minutes, 21 seconds. The more they have the ball Sunday, the better Newton, receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams will look on the bench.