Texans overcoming injuries to climb atop division
The Houston Texans are successfully employing the motto coined by their AFC South rivals in Indianapolis for years.
Key players have gone down with injuries for the Texans over the last five weeks, but the ''next men up'' have played well enough to keep the season headed in the right direction.
''They don't stop things. You got to go play the next week and you've got to stay upbeat,'' Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. ''I think it's just the team's mentality and not giving themselves reasons not to succeed, but saying we're going to succeed, so to speak.''
Backup linebacker Darryl Sharpton was the latest Texans player lost to an injury, tearing a quadriceps tendon in Sunday's 24-14 win over Jacksonville.
Star receiver Andre Johnson is still sidelined with a right hamstring injury, outside linebacker Mario Williams is out for the season after tearing a chest muscle and safety Danieal Manning is out indefinitely with a broken left leg. Fullback James Casey returned Sunday after missing two games with a strained chest muscle.
The Texans (5-3) have still managed to take control of the division, relying on improved depth they've lacked in past seasons.
''We kind of have a `next guy up' attitude,'' said linebacker Brian Cushing, Houston's leading tackler. ''We understand the nature of the beast of the game we're playing. It's an extremely physical game, and you're going to lose guys as the year goes on. Some guys have to step up.''
The Texans may still be without Johnson in Sunday's game against Cleveland (3-4). He sat out Wednesday's practice.
Matt Schaub's completion percentage has dipped since Johnson's injury, despite the recent addition of veteran Derrick Mason. Schaub completed 65 percent of his passes in Houston's first four games (74 of 113), but only 56 percent in the four Johnson has missed (79 of 141).
Schaub still ranks eighth in yards passing (2,118) and he's thrown six TD passes in the last four games, compared to seven in the first four with Johnson healthy. Receivers Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter, tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen, and running back Arian Foster have all made touchdown receptions in Johnson's absence.
''This is the NFL,'' Dreessen said. ''You've got great players at every position, and there just can't be that much drop off from a starter to a guy who's not a starter. Honestly, on this team, I don't think there is.
''There is just a mentality of this whole season,'' Dreessen said, ''that nothing, absolutely nothing, no matter what happens, is going to derail our plans and our expectations from winning games and going somewhere this season.''
The defense has been hit harder with injuries, yet somehow continues to improve. Houston ranks third overall (287 yards allowed per game) and fifth against the pass (189.4), a remarkable turnaround for a defense that ranked 30th last season.
''The next guy just has to step in and do his job,'' linebacker and defensive captain DeMeco Ryans said. ''We're not expecting him to come in and do something miraculous. Just step in and do your part, along with everyone else doing their job, and the defense just gels together well.''
Outside linebacker Brooks Reed, a second-round pick in last year's draft, has 14 total tackles in three starts since Williams' injury, including sacks in the last two games.
Troy Nolan replaced Manning, one of Houston's key offseason acquisitions. Nolan, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, played in all 16 games last season and made 49 tackles and intercepted three passes. He made five tackles in his first start of the season Sunday.
The Texans' defense has generated two turnovers in each of the last three games, and held its last two opponents under 200 yards.
''We've got injuries on both sides of the ball,'' Kubiak said, ''but the football team's got a lot of confidence and we keep having guys step up or the team's helping them step up is a good way to put it. Just very impressed with the job they've done and hopefully we can continue to keep it going.''
Notes: The Texans signed LB Derrell Smith and promoted Mister Alexander from the practice squad. ... Kubiak said Johnson went through a hard workout on Monday and will return to practice on Thursday. Kubiak was still hopeful that Johnson would play on Sunday. ''We're still in a day-to-day process,'' Kubiak said, ''but I think every day it tells us something.''