Slaton's Absence Personifies Offensive Issues

Last season, when Steve Slaton was a third-round pick from West Virginia, the Texans thought they'd solved their problem at running back. He was impressive from the start and finished with 1,282 yards rushing and a 4.8-yard average per carry.

Slaton had 1,659 yards from scrimmage, and he scored 10 touchdowns. He was effective as a runner and receiver. Talk about a sophomore slump, Slaton's second season has been a disaster. He was never able to get untracked as a runner, going back as far as preseason, before the Texans lost starting guards Chester Pitts and Mike Brisiel. After the injuries, the running game was horrible, and Slaton was at the forefront.

Slaton fumbled seven times, losing five, in the first eight games. He was removed from the starting lineup for a game and pulled from others. Coach Gary Kubiak told him if he couldn't hold the ball, he wouldn't play. At the time, though, Slaton was productive as a receiver, catching a league-best four touchdown passes for a running back.

Slaton began to feel numbness in his shoulder and neck. It would come and go. He played three games when the numbness went away. He didn't fumble. When the numbness extended to his thumb last week, he was kept out of a 23-18 loss at Jacksonville. On Tuesday, Slaton went to Dallas to see Dr. Drew Dossett, a nerve and spine specialist whose clients include the Cowboys and Rangers. After being evaluated by Dossett, Slaton was placed on injured reserve, ending a disappointing season with four games left.

"He has a nerve issue," Kubiak said. "It's the neck. They think it'll heal on its own over four to six weeks. He'll be reevaluated at that point. If it doesn't (heal), then there could be another option (surgery), but this isn't career threatening.

"Steve's going to be fine. He'll play and play well. They just said right now he doesn't need to be taking any hits over the next month."

Slaton's season ends with him rushing for 436 yards and three touchdowns and catching 44 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Slaton's place in the lineup will be taken by Chris Brown, who has 249 yards rushing. Ryan Moats (261) will come off the bench, and rookie Arian Foster will get some carries for the first time this season, Kubiak said, when the Texans host Seattle on Sunday. Chris Henry, a former second-round pick by the Tennessee Titans, has been moved from the practice squad to the regular roster.

SERIES HISTORY: 2nd regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series 1-0. Seattle won 42-10 at home in 2005.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Matt Schaub will start against the Seahawks. He'll wear a harness to protect his left shoulder, which was dislocated against the Jaguars and popped back into place. "Feeling good," he said. "After a few days of shoulder rehab and things, things are going good. It's my left arm. It's not as severe as it could have been. But we're doing a lot of work in the training room, just trying to get as fresh as we can. I have a brace on it just to protect it so I'll be good to go. It's my non-throwing shoulder, so I can still get the torque in my upper body rotation, so it'll be good."

--RB Arian Foster, an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, will carry the ball for the first time in his career when the Texans host Seattle, according to coach Gary Kubiak. "This league's all about opportunities," Foster said. "I came in, low status, worked my way up, and this is my time to help this team."

Foster signed a two-year contract, which is unusual for an undrafted rookie, but the Texans really liked him. He's been playing special teams. "Yeah, that's human nature, the wonder and the doubt," he said about wondering if he'd get a chance to carry the ball. "I've got a good supporting cast, my family stayed behind me, and we've got a great cast here-coaches and players, you know, they're very encouraging and it's fun. You get an opportunity to do what you love to do."

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Team-leading touchdowns by RB Steve Slaton, who has been placed on injured reserve.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Us putting ourselves in bad situations with penalties mental mistakes. You see the talent. You look at the team, and can tell that the talent's there. It's just up to us to put it together." - WR Andre Johnson, when asked what frustrates him the most about the four-game losing streak.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

This game should be close and interesting because the Texans and Seahawks are playing sound defense. The Texans have a four-game losing streak, and the defense deserves a better fate. The improved play of the defense is one reason the Seahawks have won back-to-back games to elevate their record to 5-7, the same as the Texans.

The defenses are similar, but the Seahawks have a better pass rush. The Texans' three leading tacklers are linebackers Brian Cushing (102) and DeMeco Ryans (86) and safety Bernard Pollard (71). For the Seahawks, safety Jordan Babineaux (87) and linebackers David Hawthorne (82) and Aaron Curry (55) are the leading tacklers.

The Texans have one good pass rusher, end Mario Williams, but he's been limited by a shoulder injury and has only six sacks. That's one more than Seahawks defensive end Patrick Kerney (five), but he's backed up by end Lawrence Jackson and Hawthorne, who have four each. The pass rush will be key for Seattle. If the Seahawks can put pressure on Matt Schaub and force him to throw interceptions or even to disrupt his timing with his receivers, they'll have a huge advantage.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Mario Williams leads the Texans with six sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. He's been bothered by a groin injury this week but expects to be 100 percent by the time the Texans play Seattle.

--OLB Brian Cushing leads the team with 102 tackles, including 64 unassisted. He has eight tackles for loss, tying him with MLB DeMeco Ryans and DE Mario Williams for the team lead.

--DE Pannel Egboh, 6-6, 276, was signed to the practice squad. He's a rookie from Stanford. He's replacing RB Chris Henry, who was promoted to the regular roster. Henry took the roster spot of RB Steve Slaton, who was placed on injured reserve.

--CB Glover Quin, who missed the Jacksonville game because of a concussion, has returned to the lineup. The defense missed the rookie's physical presence. He's a hard hitter who's underrated on pass coverage. He has 34 unassisted tackles, second among defensive backs.

--LB Kevin Bentley, who captains the special teams, leads the special teams with 14 tackles. The Texans have solid cover teams, especially punt coverage, and Bentley is a big reason. He also can play any linebacker position.

GAME PLAN: Neither team can run the ball productively or consistently, so it should come down to which quarterback plays the best -- Matt Schaub or Matt Hasselbeck. Schaub is playing with a harness on the left shoulder that was dislocated and popped back into place. It's caused him to make some adjustments in his throwing motion, but if his return from the injury in Jacksonville in any indication, he's a pro who can do it. He's used to not having a running game he can count on, so he has to be careful not to throw interceptions or fumble, especially if it's going to shorten the field for the Seahawks.

Hasselbeck doesn't have a receiver with Andre Johnson's talent, but he spreads the ball around, and he's careful not to throw into coverage. He doesn't wilt under pressure. With Julius Jones healthy and Justin Forsett trying to get healthy, at least Hasselbeck has backs who have been productive. Running back has become one of the weakest positions on the Texans' roster.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Texans WR Andre Johnson vs. Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant. Every team uses double coverage against Johnson. Some play man underneath with a two-deep zone. Some play the corner underneath and the safety over the top. No matter where Johnson lines up -- wide to either side, in the slot or going in motion -- defenses tilt the coverage to his side. And no wonder. He has 70 catches for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns. He averages 14.9 yards a catch. He fights for the ball, has strong hands and will get a lot of yards after the catch. Like Johnson, Trufant is a former first-round pick. The seven-year veteran knows all the tricks of the trade. At 5-11, 197, he needs technique and tricks to cover Johnson, 6-3, 225. Trufant can turn and run with the receiver. He's got make-up speed. He'll fight for the ball. He's used to covering Larry Fitzgerald two times a year, so he shouldn't be awed by Johnson.

Texans RT Eric Winston vs. Seahawks LDE Patrick Kerney. Winston, who plays the right side, is 6-7, 320. He doesn't face many pass rushers like Kerney, who leads the Seahawks with five sacks and 12 hurries. Kerney, 6-5, 272, is an 11-year veteran who can still get the quarterback. He's used every move in the book. Where he'll have problems with Winston is if he gets into the tackle and can't get leverage. Winston will get the job on Kerney and bury him. If Kerney gets the jump, he can get under the pads and uses his moves to get open. Both players are relentless.

INJURY IMPACT: RB Steve Slaton (neck) was placed on injured reserve. OT Duane Brown (knee), DE Tim Bulman (hamstring), OLB Brian Cushing (foot), DE Mario Williams (groin) and DT Jeff Zgonina (rest) didn't practice Wednesday but will play Sunday. CB Glover Quin (concussion) and QB Matt Schaub (shoulder) both practiced and will play Sunday.


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