Johnson finally healthy as Texans prep for Ravens
Andre Johnson missed several games this season dealing with injuries to both hamstrings.
The star receiver got healthy just in time to help Houston beat Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs. He had 90 yards receiving, including a 40-yard touchdown - his first since Sept. 18 - in a 31-10 win over the Bengals.
Now he's feeling even better and hopes to do more on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens and their stingy defense.
After playing for many years in relative obscurity on losing Texans teams, Johnson is excited to be part of a game garnering so much attention.
''It's a big platform,'' he said. ''Everybody is watching ... so I'm very thankful that I'm healthy and hopefully now I can go out and show people what type of player I am.''
The 30-year-old Johnson had more than 1,200 yards receiving in each of the last three seasons, but finished with only 492 in the regular season after missing nine games, the most in his career.
The Ravens beat Houston 29-14 in Week 6 - a game Johnson missed. It was the second of six consecutive games he sat out after surgery to repair an injured right hamstring. He missed three more games late in the season after an injury to his other hamstring and saw limited action in Houston's regular-season finale before returning to full speed last week.
Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison believes Johnson's presence will help the offense find more success this time around against the Ravens.
''Andre helps us in so many ways,'' Dennison said. ''It makes the defense have somebody else to concern themselves with (because of) his talent. We're hoping he'll go out there and make some plays like he did last weekend for us and keep us moving because we'll need them all.''
The Texans say Johnson improves not only their passing game but also their ground attack because defenses have to account for him at all times. That point was illustrated on Saturday when Arian Foster ran for 153 yards after rushing for just 41 in Houston's first game against Cincinnati - another one that Johnson missed.
''He changes how we roll offensively,'' quarterback T.J. Yates said. ''He adds a different element to our game and it opens up other aspects of our game for the running game, because a defensive play is different when he's on the field.''
Yates was still a third-stringer buried on the depth chart behind Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart when Houston played Baltimore the first time. He didn't get on the field until Nov. 27 when Leinart broke his left collarbone in his first game in place of Schaub (right foot, Lisfranc).
When Johnson wasn't healthy enough to practice during his first injury, he caught passes from Yates on a side field to stay in shape. The receiver believes that time together has helped their chemistry now that Yates is starting.
''I didn't know that I'd be playing with him this season,'' Johnson said of their early-season workouts. ''But it worked out that way. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.''
Yates and Foster said the offense felt different on Saturday with Johnson back in the lineup and that it gave the unit more confidence. For Yates, Johnson's return not only gave him an emotional boost, but made his job easier.
''Being able to throw to that guy on a daily basis now just gives you a lot more confidence knowing that if you happen to not put it on point as much as you want, he's going to go get it no matter what,'' Yates said. ''He's one of those guys that if there's kind of a 50-50 ball, he's going to go up and get it for you, and that's very comforting.''
Johnson knows better than most the quality of the defense they will face on Sunday. He's followed free safety Ed Reed's career since the two were teammates at Miami and he's watched linebacker Ray Lewis, another former Hurricane, play for years. Johnson is close friends with Reed, but the notoriously quiet Johnson said he dislikes playing against him because he cracks jokes constantly.
That defense is a big reason why the Ravens are favored by 7 1/2 points - and not too many people believe the Texans can win on Sunday - but Johnson isn't fazed by what people are saying.
''We don't care about being the underdog. I've been an underdog for nine seasons,'' Johnson said, referring to his career with the Texans. ''So it really doesn't matter.''