AFC South: Brian Cushing

video
HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt faced a creature bigger than he on Thursday after practice.

A horse named J.J. Watt. He wanted to ride it, and so he did.

The horse was one of the horses used by the Houston Police Department's Mounted Patrol. It, and two other horses, are sponsored by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair's foundation. McNair has owned race horses, too. The other two horses are named Cushing 56, after inside linebacker Brian Cushing, and Texan Star. The horse named J.J. Watt used to be named Sergeant Swatt #99, but he's made things simpler now.

Word is, horse J.J. Watt and horse Cushing love being part of the action. That figures, doesn't it?
HOUSTON -- Texans coach Bill O'Brien liked what he saw out of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and inside linebacker Brian Cushing at practice on Wednesday.

Clowney
"I thought they moved around pretty well," O'Brien said. "I still would put them in that day-to-day category, we'll see how they feel in the morning. ... Definitely looks good that they would have a shot to play Sunday."

On Arian Foster, O'Brien sounded a little more emphatic with the "day-to-day" designation, calling him "definitely" day to day. Foster, who suffered a groin injury against the Eagles, missed Wednesday's practice.

The Texans were without Clowney in their Week 9 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Clowney attributed his absence to a combination of an illness that kept him out of practices during the week and his surgically repaired knee being limited. Clowney suffered a torn meniscus in the Texans' season opener and missed the next six games, returning in Week 8.

Cushing has missed the past two games. The three weeks of rest (including last weekend's off date) were to help the knee that he'd had surgically repaired in eachof the previous two seasons. Cushing suffered a torn ACL in 2012 and a broken fibula and torn LCL in 2013.

Having both linebackers back in the lineup and healthy would help.

"Whoever the linebackers have been that have been in there have played pretty well," O'Brien said. "Any time you can add two more quality player to the group you're expecting that group to play well."
HOUSTON -- The rest did Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing some good.

"Moving around, cutting, running, endurance," Cushing said. "Feel a lot better; just excited."

Cushing
Cushing added that he wasn't sure yet if he would play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he did say this:

"Nothing's definite, but I feel good. I want to play and hope to play. That's the plan."

The Texans listed inside linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (knee) as out. Three players are questionable: Cushing, Jadeveon Clowney, who is dealing with a flu-like illness, and cornerback Darryl Morris, who could return for the Texans after being out with an ankle injury for several weeks. Morris did not practice on Friday.

What the Texans and Cushing are weighing are the pros and cons of bringing him back. He didn't feel like himself during the Texans' Monday night game, and the team decided it would be better for his knee to get some rest rather than play in Tennessee. If Cushing sits out this Sunday, he'd get three consecutive weekends off, as the Texans' bye week follows the Eagles game.

"Yeah, but I kind of don't think like that, you know," Cushing said. "Obviously I love playing, I want to be out there, but at the same time I want to play at my best level and feel as best as I can and have a good rest of the year. We gotta figure out a specific technique and formula that works for that to happen."
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' bye week following this week's game against the Eagles will come at a time when a lot of players need some rest.

Clowney
Seven players did not practice Wednesday, including Jadeveon Clowney, who coach Bill O'Brien said came out of Sunday's game a little bit sore. It was Clowney's first game back since having knee surgery Sept. 8. Running back Arian Foster, whose workload has significantly decreased in the past few weeks, also got the day off. I'm expecting him to get a lot of Wednesdays off as the season progresses.

Here's the rest of Wednesday's injury report for both the Texans and the Eagles.

Texans

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), ILB Brian Cushing (knee), RB Arian Foster (knee), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), CB Johnathan Joseph (knee), OLB Brooks Reed (groin), ILB Jeff Tarpinian (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

RB Alfred Blue (ankle), CB Darryl Morris (ankle), OLB John Simon (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION

DE Tim Jamison (groin), OLB Whitney Mercilus (shoulder), CB Jumal Rolle (wrist)

Eagles

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

S Nate Allen (hamstring), CB Brandon Boykin (hamstring)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

WR Brad Smith (groin)

FULL PARTICIPATION

G Todd Herremans (biceps), C Jason Kelce (hernia), LB Mychal Kendricks (calf), WR Jeff Maehl (foot), LB DeMeco Ryans (groin), RB Darren Sproles (knee), CB Jaylen Watkins (wrist)
HOUSTON -- In his first game back since tearing his meniscus, Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was kept on a pitch count.

Clowney
Clowney played 32 snaps, or 52 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

What Texans coach Bill O'Brien saw in those 32 snaps was a player who gave a lot of effort, who had what O'Brien called a "decent" game and who is still working on improving his conditioning to get back into football shape.

"He got off on the ball well," O'Brien said. "He had good explosion off the ball. He had good assignments, he was good on his assignments. I think it’s going to be a work in progress as far as him getting back into shape. There’s a difference between running around the track on field one out there and having to play in a football game, so he’ll continue to work on that after practice, in the mornings, trying to get his conditioning level back to where it needs to be."

O'Brien said Clowney's snaps should increase, but he's not yet at the point where he'll play 80 snaps in a game.

There was a lot of linebacker talk Monday because of Clowney's return and inside linebacker Brian Cushing missing Sunday's game in Tennessee. A few notes from Monday:
  • O'Brien was pleased with the play of his inside linebackers in Cushing's absence. In particular, his absence increased the playing time of Akeem Dent and Mike Mohamed. "I thought those guys stepped up and played well," O'Brien said. "I think Akeem Dent played a good football game. Mike Mohamed played a good football game. Tug (Justin Tuggle) played a good football game. Mohamed was the one who tracked down that one punt return and then Dent made a few plays on the kickoff."
  • Whitney Mercilus had more snaps than any other linebacker with 46. That accounted for 75 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. As outside linebackers alone went, Clowney had 32 and Brooks Reed had only 20. Reed is dealing with a groin injury he suffered during the Texans' Thursday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • O'Brien's thoughts on the OLB rotation: "I think you do it by package. We have four or five different defensive packages, a couple of base defense packages, a couple of nickel packages, a dime package, so that way you can kind of plug them in and understand how they’re going to be used throughout the game. ... The thing that’s been good about the linebacker play is when guys have been injured that the next guys have stepped up and played pretty decent. So hopefully that continues."
  • Cushing said he thought he could have played Sunday. Later in his interview he said the training staff thought it was best for him to rest. "I want to play and it hurts every time I don’t," he said. "But you get a little bit older and you have to be a little bit more patient, you have to be a little bit smarter about how you approach the game and what level you’re playing the level at. You want to be as close to 100 percent as you can." He added that the last time he's been 100 percent was probably before he started playing in the NFL.
HOUSTON -- This version of the Houston Texans suffered its first loss of the season Sunday. Their most important questions going forward will be about how they respond and if they'll cure what ailed them against the New York Giants.

We'll go a little bit more in depth about what they need to fix later this week. For now, let's take a look at the attitudes of the head coach and some key players as the Texans work to recover.

Head coach Bill O'Brien: "They never quit. Right down to the last play, those guys were playing hard. It was a very physical game. Like I said after the game, give the Giants a lot of credit. They obviously coached and played better than we did. This group of guys, really, they’re very focused and they have really good work ethics and they care about each other. They hate to lose. They hate it. Just like we do as coaches. We all do. They come in here today and certainly they don’t feel great about how the game went yesterday. But they know they can play better and we know as a coaching staff we can coach better."

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: "It’s definitely about being steady and not letting what’s going on outside or not letting last week’s performance kind of affect the work you put in this week. And that’s kind of the big thing. Not allowing anything that happened in the past affect the way that you go about your business for the next week."

Left tackle Duane Brown: "We just have to keep it in perspective. It’s one game. Obviously, you want to win every time you go out there. We have a lot to learn from this game and that’s just what we’re going to do: We’re going to learn from it, we’re going to correct our mistakes. We have a long season ahead of us. I don’t think anyone in here is sulking or walking with their heads down. We’re all still motivated and optimistic about the rest of the year and about this week. All we can do is move on and be professional about it."

Inside linebacker Brian Cushing: "That’s the mindset after a win, too. It’s just one game. You’re only as good as your last game but at the same time, you have to put it behind you. It’s 16 one-game seasons really if you look at it and that’s how you have to treat it."

Cornerback Johnathan Joseph: "Of course, you go into every game thinking you’re going to win it but you come out sometimes as the loser and you just have to learn from it. And never forget the feeling and just go into the next game with the same mentality."

O'Brien: "Most of the guys that I’ve been around are guys that are mentally tough, the successful guys. The guys who are able to say, I’m going to play the next play. Even though this play was a bad one, I’m not going to dwell on this play. I’m going to try to play the next play and make up for it. We’ve got a bunch of guys like that on the team. They realized that was not a good game for them. Give the Giants credit, they played better than us, coached better than us. Our guys are resolute in the fact that they’re going to get the mistakes corrected and try to go out there and play better."

Turnovers going Texans' way again

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:00
PM ET
OAKLAND, Calif. -- No moments were more indicative of the renewed attitude of the Houston Texans' defense than what followed a deep pass from Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to receiver James Jones.

Jones initially picked up 26 yards with the catch, then safety Kendrick Lewis knocked the ball from his hands. Jones picked the ball back up off the ground and kept running, this time meeting cornerback Johnathan Joseph near the end zone. The ball was knocked out of Jones' grasp again. D.J. Swearinger picked it up that time and the Texans had the ball back at their own 3-yard line.

Swearinger
Joseph was initially defending Jones then got back up and chased him down to the goal line. Swearinger was ready to pounce on the opportunity.

"Everyone’s excited to play," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "Not giving up on plays. Even when they get a big play, we’re chasing after balls, getting it out."

Shortly after halftime, Swearinger returned the favor for Joseph, knocking the ball from tight end Mychal Rivera for Joseph to recover. Joseph returned that recovery 49 yards, hoping to get a score there, too.

Already this season, the Texans have forced six turnovers, more than half of what they had in all of the 2013 season. They notched two interceptions (by Kareem Jackson and Brooks Reed) and two forced fumbles to add to Week 1's two forced fumbles.

"Games in the NFL, they come down to third-down conversions, they come down to red-area percentage and then obviously, probably most importantly, they come down to turnovers," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "So if you're the team that doesn't turn it over and the other team does turn it over, then you've got a heck of a shot to win and our team is doing a pretty good job of that right now."

It's a dramatic difference from last season when turnovers were a massive issue for the Texans on both sides of the ball. Houston's minus-20 turnover margin in 2013 was the worst in the NFL. Their offensive struggles there were well documented, and happened in part due to the quarterback who was shipped to Oakland after the season. Their defensive turnover struggles meant only 11 forced turnovers in 16 games.

Their goal on Sunday against the Raiders was to give up no more than seven points. Swearinger lamented that they didn't, but the Raiders' extra touchdown was a meaningless garbage-time touchdown.

They met one goal, though, one that mattered even more.

"We can’t be the defense we want to be if we don’t force turnovers," Swearinger said. "So we have to."
It's not easy to keep Brian Cushing off the field.

"Oh yeah, that’s difficult to do," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "He wants to be out there. I think in critical situations, he will be out there."

For now, though, the Texans are managing his return, much in the same way they managed the returns of other players who came off injuries during training camp. That meant sort of a pitch count for the inside linebacker, who started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. He suffered a broken leg and torn LCL in October.

"He’s had a really good rehab," O'Brien said. "I think it’s important not to just throw him in there and let him go play 80 to 85 plays in the game. I think it’s what’s best for the player, what’s best for Brian Cushing, is to manage him back through these first few weeks. We’ll look at it every single week to determine by gameplan and by how he feels -- it’s all in consultation with him -- to determine how much he plays each and every week."

That management showed in the Texans' defensive snap counts from their 17-6 win over Washington this week. Cushing still took more snaps than any other inside linebacker, but he was in for only 65 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

Here's a look at this week's defensive snap counts in order of most playing time to least:

S D.J. Swearinger, 65 snaps, 100 percent

CB Kareem Jackson, 65 snaps, 100 percent

S Kendrick Lewis, 64 snaps, 98 percent

DE J.J. Watt, 61 snaps, 94 percent

OLB Brooks Reed, 60 snaps, 92 percent

CB Johnathan Joseph, 59 snaps, 91 percent

DE Tim Jamison, 46 snaps, 71 percent

S Danieal Manning, 45 snaps, 69 percent

ILB Brian Cushing, 42 snaps, 65 percent

DE Jared Crick, 41 snaps, 63 percent

CB A.J. Bouye, 34 snaps, 52 percent

OLB Whitney Mercilus, 28 snaps, 43 percent

ILB Mike Mohamed, 24 snaps, 37 percent

OLB Jadeveon Clowney, 23 snaps, 35 percent

NT Jerrell Powe, 21 snaps, 32 percent

ILB Justin Tuggle, 19 snaps, 29 percent

CB Andre Hal, 12 snaps, 18 percent

CB Darryl Morris, 3 snaps, 5 percent

DE Jeoffrey Pagan, 1 snap, 2%

Camp preview: Houston Texans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Tania Ganguli examines the three biggest issues facing the Houston Texans heading into training camp.

Johnson's absence: Texans receiver Andre Johnson already has lost his $1 million roster bonus because of his absences this offseason, and he reportedly has asked for a trade. It could get worse. The Texans can fine him up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. Johnson has made a lot of money during his time with the Texans; that investment is part of why they aren't interested in letting him go right now, either by trading or releasing him. They also would take a pretty significant hit to their salary cap. Moving Johnson now would stick the Texans with $12 million in dead money. But Johnson's perspective is sympathetic. He has played on a lot of bad teams and talked frequently before last season about the difficulty of doing so. It shocked him that the Texans went 2-14 during the 2013 season, and his outlook on the 2014 season isn't rosy. Imagine this scenario from Johnson's point of view: He spends 2014 toiling through a rebuilding year at age 33, then gets released or traded next year as his salary rises and cap hit falls. He'd much prefer spending 2014 with a contender.

Return of the wounded: Three important players had surgery during or after the 2013 season, and their progress will be something to follow. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had foot surgery, inside linebacker Brian Cushing had knee surgery and running back Arian Foster had back surgery. It was the second season in a row that Joseph and Cushing had surgeries. Last offseason Joseph had two sports hernia surgeries, and last season Cushing had surgery on his other knee to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Foster was back for organized team activities and the Texans' minicamps. Cushing and Joseph weren't fully practicing, so their health will be important to watch. And, of course, one very important rookie also had surgery in June. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in May, had surgery to repair a sports hernia he might or might not have been dealing with during his final season at South Carolina. Clowney's progress will be key for the Texans, who weren't expecting him to need surgery upon his arrival. They need him to start at outside linebacker and help bolster their pass rush. The good news for Houston is the recovery time for sports hernia surgery -- about six weeks -- lines up perfectly with the start of training camp.

Fitzpatrick's learning and teaching: Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team's starting quarterback on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. He said Fitzpatrick earned the position with his ability to pick up the Texans' offense and his steady improvement in it. Fitzpatrick's past includes spots of brilliant mobility, but there also are overextensions and too many turnovers. His responsibility this season will be twofold. First, he's to guide the Texans offense, protect the football and manage the game. Second, he's to help teach rookie Tom Savage the craft of an NFL quarterback. Savage spent his college career with three different programs, lacking the stability needed to really learn and get better. The good news for the Texans is that makes Savage a fairly blank canvas. He shouldn't have habits that make it difficult to learn a new system or be so set in his ways that the learning process gets stuck.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
12:00
PM ET
J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
12:00
PM ET
Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

.
HOUSTON -- After a perplexing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he gained only one yard on just seven carries, running back Ben Tate was asked if anyone knows why his Houston Texans season has gone as it has.

"Maybe God?" Tate said.

Certainly not anybody in the Texans' locker room. He was asked if "embarrassing" was the right word for where the Texans are right now and he agreed.

Perhaps there's solace for the Texans in the fact they aren't alone in their dramatic tumble.

On Nov. 25, 2012 the leaders of the AFC and NFC were the Texans and the Falcons, both at 10-1. Today is Nov. 25, 2013 and they are both at the bottom of their conferences, both at 2-9.

The Texans are on a nine-game losing streak and the Falcons are on a five-game losing streak. The Texans had to come from behind to win their first two games of the season against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. Then the luck ran out. The return of Ed Reed, who missed those games recovering from hip surgery, coincided with the beginning of the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Their quarterback, Matt Schaub, faltered, setting an NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six with four, and Case Keenum, his successor hasn't been able to play well enough to change things. And while dealing with that, a significant injury avalanche began. One after another, tight end Owen Daniels, strong safety Danieal Manning, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and running back Arian Foster are all on injured reserve. Daniels could come back next week, but in his absence this season was lost.

What happened to the Falcons? I checked in with our Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure:

"I believe injuries are the main reason -- but not the only reason -- for the Falcons' decline this season. Losing top offensive threat Julio Jones (foot surgery) sucked the life out of the offense and allowed opposing defenses to play more honest. And with No. 2 receiver Roddy White battling ankle and hamstring injuries for most of the season, the high-powered Falcons lost that much more steam. Left tackle Sam Baker wasn’t the same player before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's presence was missed as the defensive leader when he was sidelined seven games due to a Lisfranc foot sprain.

"Throw in losing defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the season after Week 2 and the Falcons really never had a chance to get going on either side of the ball. Struggles by the offensive line to keep pressure off Matt Ryan and open holes in the running game have hurt, too. So has the inability for the defensive line to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has contributed to the 18 plays of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons."

Now they're two of three teams with a league-worst 2-9 records, all jockeying for draft position. It's possible that adding a high draft pick to their already-talented rosters puts them in strong positions going forward. But that turnaround will require making the right decisions in the draft and filling the holes this season exposed properly.

Double Coverage: Colts at Texans

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
12:00
PM ET
Luck/KeenumGetty ImagesAndrew Luck will be without Reggie Wayne and Case Keenum will be making his second NFL start.
During an unexpectedly poor showing in the first seven games of the season, the Houston Texans played only one AFC South opponent and beat that team.

That's the upside about the Texans' start. The downside for Houston is that during that malaise, the Indianapolis Colts returned to the top of the division and joined the league's elite. The Colts enter this game with a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans, who are second.

Both teams come off a bye week that followed a game in which they lost an important veteran -- Brian Cushing for the Texans and Reggie Wayne for the Colts. Both teams are now about to enter a stretch in which they play five divisional games. The landscape of the AFC South could change dramatically.

Colts reporter Mike Wells and I take a look at this week's matchup.

So Mike, how big of an impact will losing Wayne have on the Colts' offense?

Wells: I think the Colts will be fine for now without Wayne. They'll still win the AFC South -- it helps having a two-game lead -- because there aren't any teams in the division that can close the gap and the Colts don't have a tough schedule the rest of the season. It's in the playoffs that the Colts will miss Wayne's leadership and playmaking ability. He's been quarterback Andrew Luck's security blanket the past two seasons. Wayne is irreplaceable in the locker room and on the field.

Speaking of impacts, what type of impact do you think quarterback Case Keenum will have on the Texans?

Ganguli: Keenum opened up the Texans' passing game two weeks ago. They threw just one fewer deep pass in that game than they had in the four previous games combined. It's one area where Keenum is especially solid. He's also really impressed Texans teammates and coaches with his confidence, moxie (a word defensive coordinator Wade Phillips used) and poise. I would have excused him being rattled against a fierce Kansas City defense and crowd, but he wasn't. He was able to make plays off schedule. He completed 15 of 25 passes for 271 yards and one touchdown. It has seemed easy for him to step into a leadership role.

What kinds of challenges will the Colts' defense pose for Keenum specifically?

Wells: You can expect linebacker Robert Mathis to be licking his chops with Keenum at quarterback. Mathis leads in the league in sacks with 11.5. He's one of the leaders for Defensive Player of the Year. Safeties Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry, who are interchangeable, will try to confuse the young quarterback by disguising their coverage on him. Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are gambling cornerbacks, so expect them to try to make Keenum pay for every mistake he makes.

Is there one reason in particular that the Texans have struggled this season? Many people thought they would be Super Bowl contenders this season.

Ganguli: There have been a few factors. Turnovers have been a big part of it. The Texans' turnover margin is among the worst in the NFL right now at minus-11. Two weeks ago against the Chiefs was the only game in which the Texans' turnover margin wasn't negative. They hadn't been creating many and had been giving up the ball to an excessive degree. One other key area to examine is the red zone. Offensively and defensively, it hasn't been especially productive for Houston this season.

Wrapping things up here, Luck is a familiar face around Houston, having played football at Stratford High School. He took a beating last time he came to Houston with J.J. Watt notching three sacks as the Texans clinched the division. How has his protection been this year and how has that impacted his performance?

Wells: Improving the offensive line was at the top of the list for the Colts after Luck was sacked 41 times last season. They've been hit with some injuries along the line this season. Starting guard Donald Thomas was lost for the season in the opener with a torn quad and center Samson Satele has dealt with some injuries. Despite these issues, the Colts have done a better job of protecting Luck. He's been sacked only 15 times this season. But the Colts will have their hands full against a Texans defense that has “game-wreckers all over the place,” according to coach Chuck Pagano. I can't let you get out of here without talking about running back Arian Foster. Why is he averaging only 77.4 yards a game this season?

Ganguli: The Texans began the season limiting Foster's carries because he missed training camp while recovering from two injuries. The fact the Texans have found themselves in deep deficits has also hurt Foster's numbers. They just aren't running the ball as much as they did last season when they were playing with leads. He's had two 100-yard games this season and one 98-yard game. He rushed for 141 yards against the St. Louis Rams, which boosted his average. But the Texans' last game significantly depressed it. Foster gained only 11 yards after an early hamstring injury forced him from the game and limited him to just four carries.

HOUSTON -- When Darryl Sharpton is healthy, he's a very solid inside linebacker.

That's the issue, though. When Sharpton is healthy.

Sharpton
He's been through a slew of injuries in his NFL career which have led to limited action in his previous three seasons. He played in seven games, starting six last year, but began the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform list and ended it on injured reserve. He played in eight games and started none in 2011; he played 12 games and started six in 2010.

Last season Sharpton started next to Bradie James when Brian Cushing went out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. This season, he'll start alongside Joe Mays as Cushing recovers from a torn LCL and broken fibula. Cushing will have surgery this week.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak indicated a decision hadn't been reached yet when asked if it would be Sharpton or Mays who took over as the three-down inside linebacker.

Coming into this season, Sharpton felt confident that his body would cooperate. He also worried about jinxing himself. The tough luck struck again and he was inactive at the start of the season in San Diego.

Since then, Sharpton's been active each week, but he hasn't been injury free.

"The thing about Sharpton is Sharpton hasn’t practiced in two weeks," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "He’s played in both games, but he has not practiced. He’s been bothered by a foot, so we have to continue to work to get him healthy."

There will be a dropoff without Cushing. He's one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL and one of the best players period in run defense. His emotional impact on the Texans' defense is immeasurable.

But if Sharpton can get healthy during this bye week and then stay healthy, it would help dull the sting just a little bit.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:00
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Defensive effort: For the previous six games, the Texans' defense had limited its yards allowed, but failed to force more turnovers than the Texans' offense gave up. On Sunday the Texans won their turnover battle for the first time all season, but the defense also gave up more than 300 yards for the first time all season. The defense was better late than early. Houston allowed two touchdown drives in the first half, but only a field goal in the second. And it was finally in the second half that they got to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBrian Cushing hasn't lost his fierce attitude following his latest season-ending injury.
More on Brian Cushing: After suffering a season-ending injury, Cushing tweeted this: "It's not how many times you fall down but how many times you get back up. Life is tough but I'm the toughest SOB it's ever seen. Ill be back"

There are times when back-to-back knee injuries can turn a team off, but this isn't likely to be one of them. First, it's an injury to a different part of the knee, not the anterior cruciate ligament that Cushing tore last year. Cushing is the kind of player to whom you give the benefit of the doubt because of his work ethic, ability and stature on the team. The Texans have no financial reason to part ways with Cushing, either. They've guaranteed his contract -- the six-year extension he signed in September -- for injury through the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Not every low hit is dirty: Worth noting, there was no bad blood after the game between Cushing and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, whose helmet to Cushing's knee caused the injury. Conversely, Cushing and his teammates were furious last season when Matt Slauson's illegal peel-back block caused Cushing's torn ACL. Not every low hit is dirty, but sometimes players forget that when caught in the emotion of losing a teammate. That wasn't the case this time.

The fake to nobody: It was a head-scratching play. Smith turned to hand the ball off, but he turned in a spot where nobody appeared as the Texans' defense watched. Then Smith tucked the ball and ran 5 yards for a touchdown. Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star talked with Charles, who admitted he goofed on the play. He simply forgot which way he was supposed to go. Here's Smith on what he was thinking as the play unfolded: "Getting the defensive end to pause and then hitting the hole."

SPONSORED HEADLINES