Texans-Buccaneers Preview

The Houston Texans sit atop the AFC South thanks to one of the

most potent rushing attacks and stingiest defenses in the NFL.

That has the team hopeful it can make the playoffs for the first

time in franchise history, but coach Gary Kubiak knows there’s

still a long way to go.

Seeking a career-high seventh consecutive 100-yard effort from

scrimmage, Arian Foster looks to help the visiting Texans to a team

record-tying fourth straight win Sunday against the stumbling Tampa

Bay Buccaneers.

Houston (6-3) has posted one winning season since entering the

NFL in 2002, but it continues to look like a playoff contender.

Led by Foster (656 yards rushing) and Ben Tate (623), the Texans

are compiling an average of 155.1 yards on the ground – the

second-highest mark in the NFL entering Week 10.

“We’re sitting where we want to be, first in the division, 6-3,”

said Kubiak, whose team leads second-place Tennessee by 1 1/2

games. “But as everyone knows, things can go downhill fast in this

league so we have to remain focused.

“We’re controlling the football and the clock, so we’re doing a

good job of keeping them off the field. They’re only going to get

tougher as we move forward.”

While its ground game leaves little to be desired, Houston’s

defense – traditionally a weak spot for the club – has been even

more impressive. The Texans rank No. 1 in the league with 274.0

yards allowed per game and third with 17.4 points given up.

“I tell you guys all the time, (the goal) is hopefully get a

team that’s good enough when you show up on Sunday that you can win

three different ways,” Kubiak said. “Right now, I think we’re

heading very much towards that. I think we feel like we can play

defense with anybody in the league and we feel like we can move the

ball with anybody in the league.”

Despite the success, Kubiak is trying to keep an even keel as

his team looks to win four straight for the first time since Dec.

13-Jan. 3, 2010.

“We’ve got enough guys around here that have been through enough

tough times to know how hard they’ve worked for this opportunity

that they’re fixing to go into here over the course of the next

seven weeks,” he said.

Houston cruised past Cleveland 30-12 last Sunday behind 124

rushing yards from Foster and 115 from Tate, setting a franchise

record with 261 yards on the ground. Foster has rushed for at least

112 yards in each of the last three games and gone over 100 from

scrimmage in his last six contests – the league’s longest such

active streak.

The Texans improved to 4-0 when giving up fewer than 90 rushing

yards. They allowed a season-low 44 to the Browns.

That doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay (4-4), which dropped to 0-4

when rushing for fewer than 100 during a 27-16 loss at New Orleans

last weekend. The Buccaneers, who were looking forward to getting

their ground game going with leading rusher LeGarrette Blount back

following a two-game absence, fell behind early and were limited to

84 yards on the ground.

Blount, though, has averaged 100.0 rushing yards and 5.6 per

carry over his last six home games dating to last season.

The Buccaneers’ second straight loss and third in four games

dropped them into third place in the NFC South, 1 1/2 games behind

the division-leading Saints.

Tampa Bay’s recent struggles can be linked in part to its

inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Bucs have scored

TDs eight times in 22 opportunities inside their opponents’ 20 –

the lowest percentage in the NFL.

“It’s hard to win in this division … when you’re not scoring

touchdowns,” said Josh Freeman, who threw for 281 yards and a TD

against New Orleans. “It’s just taking advantage of the

opportunities … everything in the red zone is more condensed,

it’s gotta happen faster and we just haven’t been making

plays.”

Penalties have also plagued the Bucs, who were flagged nine

times for 80 yards last Sunday. Tampa Bay’s 68 penalties are the

third most in the league.

The team made a high-profile move to bolster its defense

Wednesday, claiming Albert Haynesworth off waivers one day after

the lineman was released by New England. The Bucs lost defensive

tackle Gerald McCoy for the season this week because of a torn

right biceps.

The Buccaneers have surrendered an average of 305.0 passing

yards at home but catch a bit of break because Texans All-Pro

wideout Andre Johnson won’t be able to return. Johnson will miss a

sixth straight game with a right hamstring injury.

These teams haven’t met since Houston won 28-14 on Dec. 9, 2007,

behind Johnson’s nine catches for 82 yards and a TD.