The Houston Texans are off to the best start in team history, and coach Gary Kubiak is confident his club can extend that run if it gives a more complete effort and protects quarterback Matt Schaub.
Back home after two in a row on the road, Houston goes for a fourth consecutive victory Sunday when it faces the Tennessee Titans, who look to build on their first win of the season.
The only team in the NFL to win its first two games in each of the last three seasons, Houston improved to 3-0 for the first time with a 31-25 victory over Denver on Sunday. The Texans hung on after surrendering two unanswered touchdowns in the final 9:49.
Houston is third in the league in scoring defense with 14.0 points per game and second in total defense with 255.7 yards per contest.
"They were proud of winning the game, but they were disappointed that they didn't close the game in a type of fashion we had played three quarters and five minutes," Kubiak said. "The way we had played the game there we're in great shape with 10 minutes (left). ... They understand that if they just play good football, they're going to win their games."
Houston's last four-game winning streak came during a team-best seven-game run that started with a 41-7 road victory over Tennessee on Oct. 23.
Winning four in a row again will likely also require keeping Schaub upright. He has been sacked just three times, but he lost a piece of his left ear lobe last Sunday when he was flattened by Joe Mays, who received a roughing-the-passer penalty.
"I felt fine,'' said Schaub, who matched a career high with four TDs. "I just lost a piece of my ear. I was bleeding and my helmet came off. So, I had to come out for a play, but I was fine.''
Schaub is unlikely to have receiver Lestar Jean available, but star receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels, who share the team lead with 13 catches, could cause plenty of problems for a Titans team yielding a league-high 37.7 points per game.
Houston might also try to dominate the game on the ground, as Tennessee is giving up 150.3 rushing yards a contest - the exact amount that the Texans are running for per game.
Houston's powerful rushing attack is led by Arian Foster, who has 294 yards on a league-high 79 carries. The Texans lead the league in time of possession at 36 minutes, 34 seconds.
Tennessee's opponents are spending a league-high 36:42 on the field, in large part because of an NFL-worst running attack that's averaging 39.0 yards.
Former 2,000-yard runner Chris Johnson has 45 yards on 33 carries after finishing with 24 yards in a 44-41 overtime win over Detroit last Sunday.
"I'd be lying if I said it's not frustrating,'' center Fernando Velasco said. "As an offensive line, you want to rush the ball.''
That could be a challenge against a Texans defense that's allowed 203 rushing yards - fifth fewest in the NFL.
If the Titans can't get the running game going Sunday, they'll have to rely more on Jake Locker, who earned his first career win last Sunday after throwing for a career-high 378 yards and two scores.
"He made a lot of good decisions,'' said coach Mike Munchak, whose team set a league record with five TDs of at least 60 yards - two coming on offense.
The Titans have done a nice job protecting Locker the last two games, but going three consecutive weeks without allowing a sack could be asking a lot as they face a Texans team that has recorded three sacks in each game.
Second-year end J.J. Watt has 5 1/2 of those - second most in the NFL - after notching 2 1/2 versus the Broncos.
"He's playing out of his mind right now," Foster told the Texans' official website. "It's fun to watch. It's fun to be a part of. He needs to keep that going."
These teams have split the last four season series after Tennessee won 23-22 at Houston on Jan. 1.
- Houston Texans
- Tennessee Titans
- The Texans
- Matt Schaub
- Gary Kubiak