HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans are about to get the ultimate test in holding onto the ball.
The Texans (7-1) have gone two games without a turnover and have committed the fewest (6) of any team heading into Sunday’s night’s showdown on the road against Chicago (7-1). The Bears, meanwhile, lead the league in takeaways (28) and they’re the first team to return seven interceptions for touchdowns through their first eight games of a season.
“These guys are exceptional, they never give up on a play,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ve been good at protecting it, but they’re the best at getting it out. We pay attention to it all the time, but we better pay special attention to it this week.”
Some nasty weather could add to the challenge for the Texans, who’ve lost only one fumble all season. The forecast for kickoff time in Chicago calls for rain, temperatures in the 30s and winds gusting around 13-15 mph.
Quarterback Matt Schaub says he’s mostly concerned about the blustery conditions at Soldier Field, where the Texans will play for the first time since Dec. 19, 2004. Schaub has only been there once as a pro, in 2005 when he played for Atlanta, and didn’t throw a pass.
“It’s just something you just have to work through,” Schaub said. “You’ve got to learn to adjust to it. It is what it is, and it’s that way for both teams. You’ve just got to go play.”
The Bears had an interception return for a touchdown in three straight games earlier this season, a first for the franchise. During that streak, Chicago joined the 1960 Cleveland Browns as the only teams to record multiple interception returns for TDs in back-to-back games.
Houston safety Danieal Manning, who played for the Bears from 2006-10, has warned the Texans’ offensive players about how much Chicago coach Lovie Smith stresses the importance of forcing turnovers and the kinds of drills the Bears use in practice to work on it.
“He sets up stations where he has stripping and turnover drills,” Manning said. “They believe in that. They’ve bought into the system. It’s obviously been working for them.”
On the flip side, Kubiak has emphasized ball security since he worked as Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1995-2005. The Broncos produced more yards and touchdowns than any other team in that span, while their turnover total was among the 10 lowest in seven of those seasons. The ’05 team had an NFL-low 16 giveaways.
Kubiak became Houston’s coach in 2006. The Texans have cut down their turnovers in recent years after coughing up more than 30 in 2007 and ’08. They had a franchise-low 18 in 2010 and 20 last season, among the six lowest totals in the league both times.
Smith said eliminating turnovers has become ingrained with the Houston offense under Kubiak, just as generating takeaways has become part of Chicago’s defensive identity.
“As I talk about the culture around here, that’s the culture around there, it’s expected,” Smith said. “I’m sure they practice it each day. In order for them to be successful, that’s a base part of what they do weekly. That’s just who they are.”
Kubiak points to the continuity of the offense more than his offensive system. Schaub has been the starter since he arrived in a trade with Atlanta in 2007, and he’s had Arian Foster behind him in the backfield for 2 seasons. Leading receiver Andre Johnson is the last holdover from before Kubiak arrived and sure-handed tight end Owen Daniels and receiver Kevin Walter have been starting since 2006.
“It’s a matter of guys playing a lot of football together,” Kubiak said. “We can show our players on paper what it does for our team if we handle the ball. Arian’s played a lot of ball with Matt. All of our guys have played a lot of football together. The more you keep a group together, the better they’ll perform from that standpoint.”
The Bears have generated at least four turnovers in half their games, and at least two in all of them. Linebacker Brian Urlacher said their challenge this week is forcing miscues by a quarterback and an offense that doesn’t make many.
Schaub has thrown four interceptions in 249 attempts and he’s only been sacked 10 times. Foster, meanwhile, hasn’t fumbled in a league-high 192 carries.
“Schaub doesn’t make dumb throws, Foster doesn’t fumble, so that’s a pretty good combination right there,” Urlacher said. “He (Schaub) doesn’t get sacked a lot, either, so there’s not going to be a lot of fumbles. They don’t get in a lot of bad situations, either.”
Still, Kubiak is making his scout-team defense poke and jab at ballcarriers in practice this week, trying to simulate the Bears’ aggressiveness.
“You’ve got to protect the ball. You’ve got to handle that,” Kubiak said. “We know it’s going to be a physical contest. That’s the thing we’ve got to prepare for.”