Texans bring balance with offensive attack

The Houston Texans can be overlooked at times with their AFC South counterparts doing so well, but they have a solid young offensive attack with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton. And they have momentum. See what Vikings defenders had to say about the sometime-underappreciated Texans offense.

In a league that gets as much publicity as the NFL, it's hard to believe that teams can fly under the radar. But the Houston Texans might be one of those teams.

The most recent expansion franchise in the NFL, the Texans have been buried in the AFC South behind Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Last season, the Texans reached .500 for the first time with a record of 8-8. Even that went largely ignored, because the other three teams in their division all made the playoffs.

Even their current three-game winning streak has been overshadowed by a dismal start that was partly the product of Hurricane Ike ripping a path directly through Houston in September. That, combined with the fact that the Texans are rarely on national television, means they remain something of an unknown to most NFL fans.

But that isn't to say they're anonymous to the Vikings. The Texans have quietly built an offense in the shadow of the Colts within the AFC South that has built up a lot of weapons to give the Vikings defense cause for concern. That process got a jolt last year when the Texans swung a pre-draft trade to acquire quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub doesn't have a ton of NFL experience, but that doesn't mean he is wet behind the ears.

"He's only in his second year as a starter, but that doesn't mean he's a young guy with little to no experience," said Jared Allen, whose job it will be to rattle Schaub on Sunday. "He spent four years with Atlanta and learned the game without being pushed into the lineup right away. He wasn't getting a lot of playing time, but he was gaining a lot of experience and now he's got his chance with Houston. If we don't get pressure on him, he's good enough to do a lot of damage. He's proved that already."

New to the Houston offense this year is rookie running back Chris Slaton. A speedster who was expected to compete with veteran Ahman Green, due to injuries that have sidelined Green, Slaton has burst on the scene as a big-play threat from the backfield – something the Texans have never really had before.

His ability to break plays to the edge and make big gains will put added pressure on cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin to not only hold up in pass coverage, but to help out in the running game and make sure that Slaton doesn't take a pitch or a sweep the distance.

"We faced (Tennessee's) Chris Johnson already this year and we have Adrian Peterson every day in practice, so we've faced great running backs already," Griffin said. "We're going in with the mindset that he's a rookie. He doesn't know the speed of the game yet. If he comes to the outside, Antoine and I are going to do a great job like we've done all year."

The game plan for trying to keep Slaton in check will be to ring his bell when he touches the ball. He's still only two months into his NFL career and the Vikings believe he is still impressionable enough to be intimidated. It will be their job to stop him and introduce him to the Metrodome turf as often and as powerfully as possible.

"Whenever you're in against young guys, you want to rattle them," Allen said. "Young people also have something to prove. We have a reputation for stopping the run and they're looking to beat that reputation."

The third component of the Texans' version of the Big Three is wide receiver Andre Johnson. Last week Johnson tied a pair of NFL records with his third straight game with 10 or more receptions and his fourth straight game with 130 or more receiving yards. He presents matchup problems like few other receivers in the league and, considering the percentage of passes the Texans throw that are in Johnson's direction, it's clear that he is a player who will bear monitoring on every play.

"He is about as complete a receiver as there is in the league," safety Darren Sharper said. "He has great size, strength, speed, hands, toughness and leaping ability. There isn't much you ask of a wide receiver that he can't do. He's a total package and makes a lot of big plays on the football field."

While the Big Three dominate the attention of most defensive coordinators, they aren't the only pieces of the puzzle in the Texans offense.

"They can hurt you a lot of different ways," safety Madieu Williams said. "Aside from Slaton running the ball and Andre Johnson catching the ball, they have a great tight end in Owen Daniels, who can make a lot of plays, and a receiver I played with in Cincinnati named Kevin Walter. He is a big-time playmaker who can hurt you if he gets open."

To counteract the Bengals offense, the Vikings will have to pressure Schaub. He has been known to throw passes rather than take sacks and those decisions have often led to interceptions – something that has been in short supply for the Vikings in recent weeks and something the secondary expects to change soon.

"We're all frustrated by not getting picks," Griffin said. "That's our job. They pay us to get picks. They're not coming right now, but when they do come, they will come in bunches."

Although they haven't been put under the media spotlight all that often, the Vikings know that Houston will be far from a pushover for an easy win to start the post-bye week schedule. They have talent, have won three straight and are building confidence with each successive win.

"They're playing good football right now," Allen said. "They're finding ways to win. We're coming off a bye week, so we're rested and ready for them. The biggest part is that they have to come into the (Metrodome) and we have to get the fans being loud. It's all about fundamental football. They're doing a great job on first and second down of getting themselves into good third-down situations. We need to do our job on first and second down to force them into third-and-longs and either get off the field or get turnovers."

Although the Vikings squandered a chance to be in a share of the division lead with the loss to the Bears two weeks ago, the division title is still in their grasp. They haven't fully dug themselves out of the hole they created early in the year, but the team believes that a win Sunday will kick-start the 2008 season just like the 2007 season got resurrected about this same time last year.

"This is a game that we need," Sharper said. "In the division that we're in, nobody has separated themselves. It's going to take for us to do what we have done in previous years (at this time) – get on a winning streak."


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