HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans are still perfect against the AFC. They get another chance this weekend to prove they can play with the best teams in the NFC, too.
Houston (7-1) remained unbeaten against conference opponents with a 21-9 victory over Buffalo and now faces Chicago (7-1) at Soldier Field on Sunday night. In their only game against an NFC team this season, the Texans were embarrassed at home by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears’ opportunistic defense leads the league with 28 takeaways, but hanging onto the ball is one of the Texans’ strong suits. Houston has coughed up a league-low six turnovers and none in the last two games.
“It’s kind of a strength against a strength,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said, “and hopefully we can hold up our end of the bargain.”
Chicago’s defense is also generating pressure, with 25 sacks and nine in the last two games. The Texans have protected Matt Schaub well all season, giving up just 10 sacks, third-fewest in the league.
Green Bay sacked Schaub three times on Oct. 14, and Houston’s offensive line looked shaky for a half coming out of the bye week, too. Schaub was sacked twice and the Texans were called for six penalties in the first half on Sunday, most of them flags for holding or false starts up front.
“We used our hands way too much,” Kubiak said, “just some things that you do every day and work on. You could see getting back into the rhythm of the game. We did it much better in the second half.”
Kubiak said one of his team’s best traits is the ability to quickly correct mistakes in practice. And he knows the margin of error will be much smaller on the road against the Bears, who’ve won six in a row.
“We talk about things we didn’t do good, things that if we do this in Chicago it’s going to get us beat,” he said. “I think good teams are hard on themselves when they win. It’s so easy to not be, but the good teams do that. Our guys are very good about that, very mature.”
The Texans’ offensive game plan for Sunday seems obvious — a heavy dose of Arian Foster to neutralize Julius Peppers and the Bears’ pass rush. Foster fought off an illness to rush for 111 yards against Buffalo, his fourth 100-yard game of the season. He leads the league with 192 carries and has helped Houston melt away time in the fourth quarter of several victories.
Houston ranks eighth in rushing offense (138 yards per game), but perhaps more importantly, leads the NFL in average time of possession (35 minutes, 12 seconds). The Texans have had more possession time in every game this season and had the ball for eight more minutes than the Bills did on Sunday.
Yards on the ground will be tough to come by against the Bears, who hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season until Chris Johnson broke an 80-yard run at the end of Sunday’s 51-20 rout of Tennessee. The Bears are allowing only 88 yards rushing per game, sixth in the league.
“They are very well-built in what they do and they’ve been together for a long time,” Kubiak said of Chicago’s defense. “A lot of players have played a lot of football together. What they’re doing speaks for itself. I could go on and on, but we have a serious task ahead of us.”
So far, opposing defenses have tried to reduce Foster’s receptions and Kubiak has adjusted by turning more to his tight ends. Foster has only 12 catches this season after making 53 last year; tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham have a total of 47 and caught both of Schaub’s touchdown passes on Sunday.
The increased opportunities for others have helped ease Foster’s workload.
“Our tight ends are much more involved this year,” Kubiak said. “I think that we’re really catching a lot of balls from that standpoint and yet we’re running the ball more than we’ve ever run it. If anything, I’m trying to get him (Foster) some of his breaks because of all those carries from that standpoint.”
Kubiak is still uncertain whether backup running back Ben Tate will play after missing Sunday’s game with a sore hamstring. Kubiak is hoping that Tate will be practicing again on Wednesday or Thursday.
Nose tackle Shaun Cody left Sunday’s game with a rib injury and will undergo an MRI exam, Kubiak said.