AFC South: Derrick Ward

Plenty of carries to go around in Indy

September, 24, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- The obvious question after Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw bruised his way to 95 yards on 19 carries against the San Francisco 49ers was: How will the carries be divided up once Trent Richardson finds his rhythm?

Don’t worry, there's enough carries to go around for everybody. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will make sure of that.

A lot of media members -- that includes me -- thought Hamilton was just being nice last week when he said nobody will get left out in the backfield. Turns out he was right. Bradshaw was on the field for 30 plays and Richardson got 28 plays against San Francisco. Those two helped the Colts rush for 179 yards in their win.

Richardson will likely end up with more carries than Bradshaw but it won't be by an overwhelming number.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAhmad Bradshaw responded to the Trent Richardson trade by having his best game of the season, gaining 95 yards.
What Bradshaw has proved so far in his short stint with the Colts is that he’s still effective. That’s good news for the Colts because they plan to pound the ball down their opponent’s throat on the ground as much as possible. They'll need multiple backs in order to do that the entire season. What also can’t be forgotten is that an established running game reduces the number of times quarterback Andrew Luck gets hit.

“You know what? That’s how he’s played ever since he’s been in the league, to be honest with you,” coach Chuck Pagano said about Bradshaw. “He runs angry, as we always talk about. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s running that way. He prepares extremely hard. He just wants to win. He knows if he runs that way, he’s going to give our team the best opportunity to win. That’s just how he’s wired and that’s just in his DNA. He doesn’t know any different.”

The addition of Richardson helps a rushing attack that was already effective in its first two games prior to his arrival. The Colts are fourth in the league in rushing at 146.3 yards a game.

Bradshaw’s not in foreign territory when it comes to having to share the load in the backfield. He did it with Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and David Wilson at different times during his six seasons with the New York Giants.

“When you’re able to run the ball like that, it does frustrate a defense,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I know it helps me out, especially on the edges. It frustrates defensive ends that they can’t just rush the passer all day. It kind of keeps us as the attacker and the fact that we’re able to be multi-dimensional and I imagine that was frustrating for the defense.”

AFC South links: Ward calls it quits

July, 4, 2012
Houston Texans

Derrick Ward announced his retirement Tuesday. The running back rushed for 469 yards and six touchdowns during his two seasons in Houston.

Indianapolis Colts

Former Colts tight end Brody Eldridge has been suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, reports

The Salt Lake Tribune has a profile on new Colts assistant special-teams coach Brant Boyer, who spent 10 years in the NFL as a player, including six seasons in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Could television blackouts of Jaguars games be a thing of the past in Jacksonville? NFL owners passed a resolution that gives teams the option of allowing local telecasts even if 15 percent of non-premium tickets are unsold, reports Morris News Service's Vito Stellino.

Tennessee Titans

Despite leading the team last season with 74 receptions, Nate Washington seems like the afterthought of the Titans receiving corps going into the 2012 season -- but that suits Washington just fine, writes The Tennessean's David Climer. “It’s kind of funny to be the old man in the room,” Washington said. “I’m very blessed to be here this long, looking forward to another season and having these guys looking to me for leadership."

The Titans selected SMU defensive end Taylor Thompson in the fifth round of this year's draft, but if things work out the way the team plans, Thompson won't take one snap on defense, writes National Football Authority's Kris Knox.
Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:
James CaseyThomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesVersatile James Casey, left, and the Texans showed off their depth Sunday against the Titans.
HOUSTON -- The Texans sought to restore order and momentum in their season finale, while avoiding any more of the injury misfortune that’s beset them all season long.

Despite suffering a 23-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium, the team seemed to achieve those goals and is now ready to turn to its first postseason. As the No. 3 seed, the Texans will host the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Nobody’s disappointed,” said receiver Andre Johnson, who estimated he played 15 snaps as he worked back from a hamstring injury. “Of course we wanted to win the game. We didn’t come out on top, but there is next week. Some teams don’t have next week. We have next week.”

“Those first couple drives, we kind of had that swagger back a little bit,” said quarterback T.J. Yates, who left the game with a bruise of his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter. “Everybody was aggressive, flying around, very talkative on the sideline. It felt like we were back to normal out there.”

A postseason appearance is definitely not normal for the Texans. Houston has an NFL playoff game for the first time since 1993.

Here are some things we learned along the way on Week 17’s game between the division’s two best teams:

Texans fullback James Casey remains a weapon: He’s not your standard fullback. The converted tight end started the Texans' first five games, then missed a couple with a chest injury and never got back ahead of the more traditional Lawrence Vickers.

But Casey’s really more of a pass-catcher than a blocker by nature, and the Titans did poorly in figuring out how to stop him from getting free for seven receptions on seven targets for a team-high 91 yards.

Casey helped get the Texans in range for one of Neil Rackers’ field goals with a brilliant catch, keeping the ball in the air with a left-handed tip before diving to collect it.

“We were lining up in different formations with different personnel, and as a defense it’s kind of hard to understand exactly what we’re going to do,” Casey said. “Because we’re not just doing base things. We’re motioning all over the place. They don’t know if I’m fullback or tight end. It’s tough sometimes for them to set their blitzes or their coverage. Hopefully you can get guys out of spots, out of gaps in the run game and out of their zones in the pass game and try to take advantage of that.”

Next week, with Johnson playing full time and Owen Daniels and Arian Foster back in the lineup, odds are Casey qualifies as only the fourth- or fifth-best receiving option when he’s on the field.

“James has some crazy hands,” Johnson said. “He’s probably the guy I’ve seen make the most one-handed catches. His hands are very, very good, I think he has the best hands on this team. I don’t know who has the best in the league, but I think he’s right up there.”

The Texans are quite deep: Typically a team that scratches key starters like Foster, Daniels and cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a game that doesn’t have great meaning, is willing to yield some. Especially if it doesn’t jump out to a lead.

And the Texans have proven all season they have quality depth, as they’ve replaced defensive end Mario Williams, quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, punter Brett Hartmann and linebacker Daryl Sharpton, and played stretches without Johnson, safety Danieal Manning and guard Mike Brisiel.

Sunday as they rested some guys and pulled others early, they called on even more depth.

Beyond Casey, the Texans got solid contributions from a lot of role players like receiver Bryant Johnson, running back Derrick Ward and linebackers Tim Dobbins and Bryan Braman, along with quarterback Jake Delhomme.

“It says we have quality players all across this locker room,” Foster said. “We have guys that can play.”

Said Titans receiver Nate Washington: “This is a new Texans team that they take pride in. Even their backups come in there and they are playing hard. They’re going to make plays. We have to find a better way to close out those games.”

One piece of depth they were missing: a center behind Chris Myers who could make a quality shotgun snap in the clutch. The Texans could have won it with a 2-point conversion at the end, but guard Thomas Austin put the shotgun snap over Delhomme’s head at the end of the game. Kubiak said Austin had snapped enough that it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Kubiak understands a “meaningless” game: He’s never been a playoff head coach before, but he’s been part of a lot of good teams. That’s why he didn’t hesitate after Bryant Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 14 second left to keep his offense on the field for a 2-point try.

Even after Joel Dreessen’s false start, Kubiak stuck with it.

He wanted a win, sure, but he wanted overtime even less.

It was a smart call and the right call, even if Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan didn’t agree.

“I understand they want to get the game over with, but after they false started and they still went for 2, I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “That’s a slap in the face. But they botched the snap, so whatever.”
HOUSTON -- A couple halftime thoughts from Reliant Stadium, where the Titans lead the Texans 13-10.
  • The Titans smartly came out with something different, using shotgun with an empty backfield. They had great success with it early, but seemed to sag when it didn’t lead to a touchdown drive right out of the gate. An injury to receiver Damian Williams that’s knocked him from the game may force them to use it less than they’d like the rest of the way.
  • Houston’s front is great. The Texans swarmed against a good pass-protecting offensive line and produced two Antonio Smith sacks of Matt Hasselbeck. The linemen and linebackers just come from a different spot on every play. I think that pass rush is going to key them in the playoffs.
  • Jake Delhomme got away with a very bad throw late in the second quarter. Cornerback Jason McCourty would have probably gone for a touchdown if he didn’t flub the pass like a man who had casts on two broken hands.
  • Receiver Donnie Avery benefitted from Williams’ injury and caught the Titans' touchdown on a smartly designed play. Tennessee bunched three receivers right, then had Hasselbeck throw to Avery against Jason Allen on the left from the 1-yard line. It was Avery's first catch of the year.
  • The Texans should pound it with running backs Ben Tate and Derrick Ward in the second half. I think they can break the Titans' defense that way, and that the Titans could be frustrated they aren’t having an easier time considering Houston didn’t dress Arian Foster, Johnathan Joseph or Owen Daniels.
  • I thought rules dictated teams announce in-game injuries. But the Texans have not said what prompted T.J. Yates’ trip to the locker room and exit from the game. And the Titans took a long, long time before finally revealing at the half that Williams has a rib injury and his return is questionable.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak’s play calling caught the Bucs off-guard on the first play, and they were rendered helpless the rest of the way as the Texans romped to a 7-3 record, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Is it time to forget everything you thought you knew about the Texans? At the moment, they are doing a pretty good imitation of one of the NFL’s best teams, says Richard Justice of the Chronicle.

The Texans backed up that No. 1 defensive ranking, says Jeffrey Martin of the Chronicle.

Finally healthy, Derrick Ward got in the end zone against a team that let him go, says Martin.

Cornerback Brice McCain is blossoming under the new coaching staff, says McClain.

McClain’s report card.

Indianapolis Colts

The moribund Colts offense couldn’t do much in loss No. 10, says Phil Richards.

As much as management would love to keep both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, maybe have Manning tutor Luck through one season, it's not practical or financially viable, says Bob Kravitz of the Star. “You think the Colts will pay Manning that $28 million roster bonus so he can work with Luck for a year? Either they'll pay him and trade him, or they'll choose not to pay the bonus and watch him walk in free agency -- likely the latter.”

The Colts' offense was so inept Curtis Painter threw two interceptions in one series, says Reggie Hayes of the News-Sentinel.

The defense was good, but not good enough to win, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Dan Orlovsky was in the game at the end again, and the Colts could decide to start him over Painter after the bye, says Chappell.

The Colts have a huge gaping hole in the roof, says Nate Dunlevy of

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert’s baby steps included a long third-quarter touchdown drive, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union. The Jaguars got a needed win against a bad team, but I sure wish Gabbert had shown more than that in such a setting.

Jeremy Mincey was at the center of a dominant defensive effort against the Colts, says Vito Stellino.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis will have an MRI of his knee, says Tania Ganguli of the T-U.

The Jaguars will take the win, but they sure could use some style pointers, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

Frenette’s report card.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans sacked Cam Newton five times and disrupted his rhythm all day in a rout of the Panthers, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The Titans got Chris Johnson and the run game going as the Panthers wore down, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

First-quarter production was a big change for the Titans and sparked success, says Glennon.

Colin McCarthy looked solid in his first start for the Titans as he subbed for the injured Barrett Ruud, says Wyatt.

Tennessee looked at the trip to Carolina as a chance for a fresh start, says David Climer.

Wyatt’s report card.
HOUSTON -- Kareem Jackson is out with a knee injury for the Texans’ game against the Steelers, replaced in the starting lineup at left cornerback by Jason Allen.

Jackson struggled through his rookie year but held on to his starting spot through the preseason despite a strong challenge from Allen.

The Texans' secondary was picked apart in second half by Drew Brees last week in New Orleans in a loss to the Saints. Jackson was not good, but plenty of other defenders were victimized as well.

Allen will line up across from speedy receiver Mike Wallace, and should get significant safety help.

The banged up Steelers are down four starters -- defensive end Brett Keisel, left cornerback Bryant McFadden, left tackle Jonathan Scott and right guard Doug Legursky are all out.

The Texans' defensive front will be attacking an offensive line with two subs -- left tackle Trai Essex and right guard Ramon Foster.

The complete list of inactives:

NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, Arian Foster won’t play for the Texans against the Saints today.

Ben Tate will bid to become only the second running back in league history to top 100 yards in his first three games, matching Cadillac Williams.

The Texans get a break with New Orleans injuries. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will play middle linebacker in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma, and Patrick Robinson will replace Tracy Porter at right cornerback. Receiver Devery Henderson is out of the offensive lineup, with Robert Meachem.

The full list of inactives:

Arian Foster was a full participant in practice for Houston Wednesday, good news for the Texans as they prepare for a trip to Miami.

Marcedes Lewis did not practice for Jacksonville Wednesday, bad news for the Jaguars as they prepare for a trip to New York to face the Jets.

Both teams did well last week despite the injury to key players. Foster (hamstring) didn’t suit up for the Texans’ win against the Colts. Lewis (calf) didn’t finish the Jaguars' win against the Titans.

The Texans showed good running back depth as Derrick Ward scored a touchdown before he left the game with an ankle injury. (He didn’t practice Wednesday.) Ben Tate topped 100 yards as the primary back the rest of the day.

The Jaguars entered their game without their No. 2 tight end, Zach Miller, who was a scratch with a knee injury. Zach Potter saw time once Marcedes Lewis was out, but was not targeted by Luke McCown.

Against the blitz-heavy Jets, who defend the run well, the Jaguars would really miss Lewis.
TBDAP Photo/Dave EinselMatt Schaub, left, Andre Johnson and the Texans believe they're a playoff contender this season.
HOUSTON -- They don’t want to act like they’ve been here before.

Because when the Houston Texans were here before, it proved pretty meaningless. Last year’s opening-day win against the Colts at Reliant Stadium didn’t translate to a playoff berth. It turned out to do little for the team in a lost season that finished 6-10.

This time around, they have reason to believe a 34-7 pounding of the Colts and a 1-0 start will be more relevant in the big picture.

Before they were finished talking about it, the team’s reminders about its center of attention has been altered.

Signs at both ends of the locker room and outside the team auditorium that said “One Focus” and featured a Colts’ helmet and the date and time of the opening game were taken down. In their places: New versions with details about the Dolphins.

Some players cautioned fans about running out to buy Super Bowl tickets, but defensive end Antonio Smith said he didn’t want to be an obstacle to anyone’s conviction.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Everybody knows the best way to get to the playoffs is through your division. If we don’t play good in our division games, we can’t have dreams of the playoffs…

“We need as much belief as we can get. Faith and belief is the only way you’re going to get anywhere. So if our fans believe in us, if they have faith in us, then I think it can’t do anything but help us when you’ve got that much positive vibe. If you believe in us, buy away.”

More good perspective came from Andre Johnson, who let an early pass slip through his hands and turn into an interception, but still caught seven balls for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“No, I’m not afraid about being happy,” he said. “A win is a win. We were in this same situation last year… Our motto now is just trying to go 1-0 every week. That’s the way we approach it. We’re going to enjoy the win tonight, fix the mistakes we made tomorrow, and try to go 1-0 again next week.”

Before we move on to Texans-Dolphins, five observations out of the win against Indianapolis.

1) The defensive front will face better offensive lines and have tougher times. But the group, newly shaped into a 3-4, was dominant. It hit Kerry Collins seven times, sacked him three times, forced three fumbles (one was a dropped snap), recovered two and generally allowed Collins very few comfortable snaps.

“They are as good a front seven as we’ll play this whole year,” Collins said. “We have to do better at diagnosing it, picking it up and getting rid of the ball.”

Smith and Mario Williams were especially active and drew praise from the defense’s architect, coordinator Wade Phillips.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.J. Watt, 99, and the Texans' front seven made life difficult for Kerry Collins and the Colts.
“Obviously it was a good start for us,” an understated but proud Phillips said. “The effort was great, I thought, and our execution was pretty good. You have to be pleased, especially with 34-0 at the half. We felt like we had to come out strong against that team who had adversity with their quarterback.”

Smith said he often had the hard count the Colts tried to employ figured out.

“I don’t know if a veteran quarterback like that really gets rattled,” he said. “But I know he felt our pain. I know every time we hit him we tried to make him feel that.”

2) The defense was very clearly the weak element of the 2010 team.

But there is no holdover in terms of anyone on the team thinking anything but all-for-one-and-one-for-all, according to center Chris Myers.

“When they are getting great plays, the whole offense is on the field before they can even come off the field,” Myers said. “Same thing with the defense. It’s something we’ve been able to preach the whole preseason: We have each other’s backs no matter what. It’s shown this week and we’ll go from here.”

3) A year ago, the opening day win against the Colts was a big breakout game for Arian Foster, who ran for 231 yards. This year, with Foster out with a hamstring injury and Derrick Ward lost during the game to a knee injury, Ben Tate stepped up and produced 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“The line played outstanding today, and the tight ends really did a nice job on the edge and opened up holes,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We have a good solid group of backs. Derrick really played well and then when Ben was in there, he’s a great guy who can read the one cut, make his move, get down hill and get yards and make a guy miss. We saw that today and it was good to see him play that way.”

4) One game does not a return-game turnaround make, but boy would a year of threatening kick and punt returns be a big addition. Jacoby Jones went 79 yards for a touchdown after Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff 46 yards.

Jones’ value on offense just went up with Kevin Walter’s serious shoulder injury. Can Gary Kubiak continue to put him at risk on special teams when the team is thin at wide receiver?

5) The Texans didn’t appear to think for a second about last year’s slow-starting offense when their second play from scrimmage was the Schaub pass that went through Johnson’s hands and wound up picked off by Melvin Bullitt.

These Texans showed resolve, as the defense stalled Indy with the first of Williams’ two sacks, and the offense marched 73 yards in 13 plays for a field goal to open the scoring.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 34, Colts 7

September, 11, 2011
HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 34-7 rout of the Colts at Reliant Stadium.

What it means: The Texans bolted out to a 1-0 start over the Colts last season, but this one was different. We saw what a good team can do against Indianapolis minus Peyton Manning. The Texans sailed, and the Colts struggled. It’s hard to call any Houston game a turning point, but this is one we might look back to as a pivot point for control of the AFC South.

What I liked: Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson was virtually can’t-miss after an early interception of a pass that slid through Johnson’s hands. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate both ran effectively. Jacoby Jones showed smarts and speed on a 79-yard punt return for a score. The Texans’ new 3-4 defense found consistent pressure that made life very tough on Kerry Collins. End Antonio Smith was especially effective.

What I didn’t like: Collins was just shaky, handing away two fumbles in a short span early on, once on a sack, once on a fumbled snap. Unless the protection was perfect, he was messy and there were only a handful of snaps where the protection was perfect. Indianapolis’ defense simply didn’t show any ability to bottle up the run, and receivers consistently found space between defenders to collect Schaub’s passes.

Who to worry about: Colts linebackers. Gary Brackett suffered a shoulder sprain when he was tackled at the end of an interception return. The Colts played bad defense with him. Without him, they’d really have a hole. Ernie Sims suffered a knee sprain early in the game, which meant undrafted rookie Adrian Moten saw time in the nickel package.

One good thing about the Colts: They didn’t quit, showing some life in the second half even though they knew it was over. Reggie Wayne was in the middle of it. Jeff Saturday fought hard to recover Collins’ third fumble at the bottom of a pile.

One bad thing about the Texans: With Arian Foster (hamstring) already hurt, Ward left the game with an ankle injury. Tate and Steve Slaton provide nice depth, but any team down its top two running backs has questions.

What’s next: The Colts try to recover when they host Cleveland. The Texans try to keep things going in Miami. The rematch between Houston and Indy is at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 22.

Foster, Gonzalez, Hughes won't play

September, 11, 2011

HOUSTON -- Arian Foster's hamstring will keep him out of the Colts-Texans game today.

Derrick Ward will start in his place, with Ben Tate expected to also see significant work. Steve Slaton is also active.

The inactive lists for both teams:

If Arian Foster can’t play Sunday against the Texans, Gary Kubiak confirmed Derrick Ward will start and Ben Tate will get mixed into the backfield. Even Steve Slaton should see some action.

I’m on record saying they should be conservative, sit Foster and pound the Colts with heavy doses of Ward and Tate.

Gary Kubiak articulated the big difference between the two in a talk with Houston reporters Friday.

“Ward is very smart,” Kubiak said. “He has excellent pass protection as far as the things you’ve got to pick up in this league to be a three-down back. He’s a big guy, he’s tough to tackle. He’s always moving forward with the ball. I like guys like that with our scheme.

“Tate’s more of a big-play person, [he’s] got speed, those type of things, has the ability out in the open field to possibly have some big runs. That’s probably where they’re a little different from that standpoint.”

Ward compared the Texans’ backfield depth to the group he was part of when he was with the Giants.

“It’s almost exactly the same,” he said. “When I was in New York, we had me, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reuben Droughns, proven guys that have played in this league. Here you have me, Arian, Steve, all 1,000-yard rushers. Then you have the young guy, Ben Tate, coming in lighting up some things. It’s going to be a fun year to see how they use us all.”

Once Foster’s back to full strength, he’s going to get the lion’s share of the carries. If the Texans start him Sunday, I’ll be tempted to feel like the team is pressing even before kickoff.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 9, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLuke McCown
Howard Smith/US PresswireLuke McCown has completed 59.2 percent of his passes over his career.
Don’t overrate David Garrard. A lot of people seem to think that the Jaguars' cutting Garrard makes them a less dangerous team. I assure you, they are not thinking that way. They will be the same run-heavy offense. The Jaguars, who play host to Tennessee on Sunday, will look to an upgraded defense to be physical and bottle up Chris Johnson. And they expect a crisper performance from Luke McCown than they would have had from Garrard, who struggled throughout the preseason. If McCown doesn’t have a good day, let’s hold the talk that makes it sound as though Garrard would have played like Johnny Unitas.

Can the Texans' running backs help out blocking? Their underrated offensive line has its hands full against the Colts' pass rush, which features Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. But if Arian Foster is out or limited, the team could lean more on Derrick Ward for his experience than on Ben Tate for his potential. Tate ran great in the preseason, but can he take on a defender determined to bring down Matt Schaub?

Unproven pass rushes in Jacksonville. The Jaguars still haven’t solved their pass-rush issues. Aaron Kampman is back from knee surgery and Matt Roth is a solid addition. We know their middle guys can get push, but who’s going to make Matt Hasselbeck uncomfortable? Same goes for the Titans. Derrick Morgan is out, so Malcolm Sheppard will be in the mix at end behind William Hayes, Jason Jones (who's been hurt) and Dave Ball. They’re working with a more disciplined scheme to be sure they stop the run, but can those guys bother McCown working more technique than speed?

Spotlight on Kerry Collins. The whole football world is watching to see what the Colts look like without Peyton Manning. We’ve talked a lot about Collins' protection and how he’s picked up the system. But what kind of feel has he developed for his targets? Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai make up a very reliable quartet that knows how to be in the right spots and get open. Collins didn’t have a crew like that during his time with the Titans. Does he have a feel for the talent?

Unveiling the 3-4. Wade Phillips is a master at turning around defenses, but he’s had a shorter time frame with this new group. Surely there are elements of what the Texans will do that they did not show in the preseason. Phillips’ defenses have fared great against Collins. As the Texans look to extend that streak of success, end Antonio Smith could be a big factor. He’ll probably be working against Joe Reitz and Jeff Saturday.
Arian Foster's hamstring injury kept him out of practice Wednesday as the Houston Texans worked to get ready for Sunday’s visit from the Indianapolis Colts.

Still, according to John McClain, the team is calling Foster day-to-day.

If there is any risk of Foster straining his hamstring a third time on Sunday, the Texans would be wise to limit him or even sit him.

It’s a huge game with a chance to set the tone for the season. Foster is a giant part of what the Texans do. But, frankly, if the Texans plan for this game like they should, call plays like they should and run block like they should, the offense should be able to produce sufficient ground yards against Indianapolis with a combination of Derrick Ward and Ben Tate.

Ward did very good work as the team’s No. 2 back last season, and Tate was productive and intriguing in the preseason. We’re not even talking about the team’s fourth back, Steve Slaton.

It’s a deep position.

If Foster plays and comes out of Week 1 limping, we’ll be talking about a lingering injury. It’s the nature of teams and players to push through injuries. But having him whole for the long term is the greater good.

The Texans should err on the side of caution, in hopes of having a full-strength Foster later this month, for other tough, upcoming games at New Orleans, against Pittsburgh and at Baltimore.