Texans try to build on 6-3 start
Texans nose tackle Shaun Cody is known around the locker room for his sense of humor. He's the star of comical video skits on the team's website, and he grabbed a microphone and serenaded Arian Foster as he was being interviewed last week.
Cody was joking again after Sunday's 30-12 win over Cleveland when he said, ''Super Bowl, here we come.'' The way Houston is playing, that may not be too much of a stretch.
The first-place Texans (6-3) have won three in a row to move three games over .500 for the first time heading into Sunday's game at Tampa Bay (4-4). And with each victory, there seems to be more reasons to believe Houston will continue to roll.
Houston has held its last three opponents under 200 yards and now leads the league in total defense (274 per game). More remarkably, the Texans rank second against the pass (182.6 yards per game) after finishing last in 2010.
The players and coach Gary Kubiak credit Wade Phillips for the defensive resurgence. The new coordinator re-energized the unit during a transition to a 3-4 alignment, and Kubiak found out Monday that his team now boasts the league's top defense.
''We've come a long way,'' Kubiak said. ''Hopefully, there's a lot more good things to come.''
The offense, meanwhile, has relied on Foster and Ben Tate in recent weeks to overcome the absence of star receiver Andre Johnson, who's missed five games with a right hamstring injury. Foster and Tate both rushed for over 100 yards in Sunday's 30-12 rout of Cleveland, the second time in three weeks the duo has done that in the same game, another ''first'' for the franchise this season.
The Texans rank second in rushing (155 yards per game), and are the only team with two backs inside the league's top 10. Foster had 19 carries for 124 yards and Tate had 12 rushes for 115 in Sunday's win.
And with another solid effort in the kicking game against the Browns, Kubiak is starting to see the versatility he envisioned when he took over the team in 2006.
''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 and to me, (special teams coordinator) Joe (Marciano) has done a great job with our special teams.''
The Texans also have enough depth now to withstand key injuries, and they'll be short-handed again on Sunday.
Sacks leader Mario Williams was lost for the season five games ago and safety Danieal Manning is out indefinitely with a broken left leg. Defensive end Antonio Smith hurt his right shoulder against Cleveland, and Kubiak said he may miss practice time this week.
Johnson worked out Monday, and Kubiak wasn't sure if the star receiver would return to practice on Wednesday. The Texans have a bye week after the trip to Tampa Bay, so Kubiak may wait and give Johnson an extra full week to heal.
''We're going to take it a day at a time,'' Kubiak said, ''but we're back on the track to Andre getting back on the field here very, very quickly. Hopefully that's this week, but I don't know. We'll see.''
The biggest question now for the Texans may be simply how they handle winning. Houston is still seeking its first playoff berth and its fans have grown accustomed to stunning collapses late in games and in seasons.
But Kubiak thinks the past disappointments will keep the team in the right mindset entering the season's stretch run.
''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,'' Kubiak said. ''And we've got a lot of coaches here who have been in a lot of big games and been on a lot of good football teams. We'll just keep them focused.
''There's a long way to go. There's seven weeks to go, but when you start breaking it down by days, there's not many days left. We just got to make sure we make each day a good one.''