Houston at New Orleans; Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints battle in week-two of the NFL season.

Houston Texans (1-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SURFACE: AstroTurf
TV: CBS, Craig Bolerjack, Beasley Reece
SERIES: First regular season meeting. The Texans beat New Orleans, 13-10, last Aug. 10 during the preseason at the Superdome.
2003 RANKINGS: Texans: offense 3rd (9th rush, 3rd pass); defense 15th (12th rush, 17th pass). Saints: offense 6th (14th rush, 7th pass); defense 9th (28th rush, 4th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans have tremendous speed in their receiving corps, but they need to continue to mix the deep passing game with short passes to create confusion in the Saints' secondary. That also aides an offensive line that didn't allow a sack in the opener, but remains a large question mark. The Saints want to attack that line, but will be without DE Darren Howard (broken hand). New Orleans also needs to get back to the power running game on offense and limit the turnovers that took them out of their season opener by halftime.
FAST FACTS: Texans: Houston was outscored a combined 104-28 in the games following their four victories last season. ... RB Stacey Mack has gone 294 consecutive rushing attempts without a fumble, the second-long current streak in the NFL (Detroit's James Stewart is first with 397). Saints: The team has not scored more than 10 points in three consecutive games dating back to last season. ... New Orleans is 13-23 in home openers.

PREDICTED SCORE: Saints 17, Texans 16

   --DE Gary Walker said he is right on schedule in his recovery from a sprained left shoulder, although he hoped the healing process would have been quicker than originally diagnosed. Walker has been sidelined since Aug. 15 and has been practicing on a limited basis. Coach Dom Capers said Corey Sears likely will make his second straight start Sunday against the Saints. "It's not taking longer than we thought it was going to take," Walker said. "I was just hoping it would be quicker than what everybody had said. We're just trying to be smart with it."
   -- DE Corey Sears will make his fifth career start with Pro Bowler Gary Walker out with a shoulder injury. Before this season Sears made three starts with Arizona from 1999-2000.
   -- Second-year RB Jonathan Wells, who has been sidelined more than a month with turf toe on his left foot, said he is ready to play. The decision is now up to the Texans. Coach Dom Capers said a decision on how many running backs the team will carry on the active roster will depend on which players can provide special-teams contributions. The Texans carried three backs for the opener - Stacey Mack, Domanick Davis and Tony Hollings.
   -- The Texans signed inside linebacker Justin Seaverns to their practice squad.
   -- The Texans re-signed linebacker Jimmy McClain and waived linebacker Armegis Spearman. McClain was the only undrafted free agent to make the roster last season, playing in 15 games mostly on special teams.
   -- With rookie Antwan Peek out with a knee injury, Steve Foley is the only healthy backup outside linebacker on the roster.

   --WR Joe Horn missed a second straight day of practice on Thursday with a bone contusion in his left knee. Horn continues to be listed as questionable for Sunday's game with the Texans.
   --LDE Charles Grant was able to practice Thursday despite a strained left calf muscle. Grant, who did not work Wednesday, is still probable for the Texans.
   --DT Henry Ford, who had surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle in late August, practiced for the second straight day Thursday, but remains doubtful for Sunday.
   --RDE Darren Howard had surgery on his dislocated right wrist on Monday and will be sidelined 10-to-12 weeks.
   --LB Cie Grant had arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 27 and will miss his second straight game Sunday.
   --WLB Derrick Rodgers worked with the first-team defense again Thursday and will start Sunday in place of second-year player James Allen.
   Rodgers missed the season opener while serving a one-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.

   Texans linebacker Charlie Clemons is keeping quiet this week. He doesn't intend to give the New Orleans Saints any bulletin-board material.
   "I've been in the league for a while, and I've had one other game where I played against a former team," Clemons said. "You have friends over there, guys you went to battle with. But it's not going to be an over-hyped situation where I'll try to go in there and kill anybody. I don't have bad blood. It's not like that."
   Clemons played three seasons with the Saints from 2000-2002 before the team cut ties with him after last season. While playing for former Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook, Clemons had the best year of his career in 2001 with 13 1-2 sacks. But when Zook left to replace Steve Spurrier as the head coach at the University of Florida, Rick Venturi was elevated to defensive coordinator. Clemons was moved to inside linebacker, he recorded only one-half sack and he struggled to remain healthy.
   That didn't stop the Texans from investing $6.7 million, including a $1.3 million signing bonus, to sign Clemons as the replacement for team sack leader Jeff Posey.,
   "I know the nature of this business," Clemons said. "I could have had a great year last year and still been in this situation. This whole thing is a business. You never know how important you are to an organization until you're gone. You have to move on. I'm with a new family. I've embraced this like I've been here all of my life. This is a great organization that puts its best foot forward trying to win. We've got some guys who really want to win."
   In the Texans' season opening victory over Miami, Clemons had four tackles, four quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery.

   Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi said nobody will feel sorry for the Saints when they go into Sunday's home opener against the Houston Texans without starting right defensive end Darren Howard.
   So, Venturi said, the Saints have no choice but to move forward in their first game after Howard, their top pass rusher, was lost for 10-to-12 weeks with a dislocated right wrist. He had surgery Monday to insert pins into the wrist to facilitate the healing process.
   "I was raised in this business and it's a cumulative, team game," Venturi said. "If you lose a link in the chain, everybody has to pull that chain that much tighter.
   "When you lose a player of Darren's caliber, it's a tough loss," he said. "But again, nobody cares. You just have to go on to the next day and you pull the chain a little tighter."
   In this case, Venturi will call on five-year veteran Willie Whitehead, third-year pro Kenny Smith and rookie Melvin Williams to fill in for Howard, a former second-round draft pick who had 25 sacks in his first three NFL seasons.
   For now, Whitehead, a 15-game starter in four seasons with the Saints, will be the starter. It's not yet known if he will start in Howard's spot or go in at left end with Charles Grant moving over to the right side. The Saints' other options include third-year pro Kenny Smith and rookie Melvin Williams, a fifth-round draft pick this spring.
   "When guys get hurt, you have to go in and take care of business," said Whitehead, who has 17 1/2 sacks in his career. "You have to get the job done. It's one of those things, but we've still got to roll."
   Whitehead brings a lot of versatility to the table as an end or tackle, but he said his strength lies at defensive end where he can better use his strength and quickness.
   "I have high expectations and high goals for myself this year, so I'm going to do whatever I can to reach them," he said. "I've been here before and I've backed up some good players, so I have to take care of business."

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