Texans looking to address red-zone issues
HOUSTON — Houston coach Gary Kubiak started the week by meeting with his offense and reviewing all the Texans' plays inside the 20-yard line over the first three games.
No one liked much of what they saw.
The Texans (2-1) are tied with New England for the most trips inside the so-called red zone with 16, but they have only five touchdowns to show for it. The inefficiency cost them in a 40-33 loss to New Orleans last week, and correcting the problem has been the focus heading into Sunday's game against the Steelers (2-1).
"It hadn't been good enough, so we've got to do something different, something better," Kubiak said. "I've got to call things better. We've got to block better, run better, throw better.
"That's part of football," he said. "Some things you're doing good; some things you're not doing good and you work hard to fix them."
Houston should get a boost this week, with Arian Foster expected to start after sitting out two of first three games to nurse a strained left hamstring. Foster led the league in rushing — and rushing touchdowns, with 16 — last season.
"If you've got to play block for two (yards), he'll find a way to get three or four," Kubiak said. "He's always been that way and he's tough to tackle down there and make somebody tackle him three times. He's usually pretty successful down there. He was a big difference last year."
But everyone agrees that the formula for more red-zone success involves more than just handing the ball to Foster instead of Ben Tate, who rushed for over 100 yards in Houston's first two games.
The Texans rank fifth in rushing (138 yards per game) behind an experienced offensive line, but the offense has produced no gain or lost yardage on 21 of its 51 plays run inside the opponents' 20.
"When you're in the run game, and there's not a lot of space, and there's 22 bodies within three yards of space, it's going to be about who wants it more, a battle of will," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "But it's also about execution, too, and being smart with what you're trying to get done."
The Texans have averaged only 1.8 yards on their 16 initial plays in the red zone, immediately creating more pressure for Schaub and limiting Kubiak's play-calling options.
Houston scored three touchdowns on six red-zone visits in a 34-7 win over Indianapolis in the opener. Since then, the Texans have mustered only two touchdowns in 10 drives inside the 20.
"I think the last two weeks, first-and-10, we'd run the ball, (then face) second-and-10, second-and-nine, second-and-11, so you're off schedule," Kubiak said. "Against New Orleans, we had three second (down) and less than three yards, and we went backward. You can't have negative football plays ... Find a way to save the play."
Scoring touchdowns won't be much easier on Sunday. The Steelers' defense has allowed nine red-zone visits and only four touchdowns.
"I'm pretty sure on every team, when you get in the red zone, guys are probably in the huddle (saying), 'Hey man, we need to get seven points here,"' All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson said. "But that's what makes this game so challenging, because you have a defense out there trying to make you go three-and-out. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to score as many touchdowns as we would like, but I think we'll get it fixed."
Johnson said Monday's film session showed every offensive player what he needs to do better.
"It's not just one guy. It's everybody," he said. "You may have a guy may miss a block or a pass that may have been dropped in the flat or something like that, that a guy could have turned up. You just have to make those plays and, like coach Kubiak said in the meeting, when you get down in the red zone, every time you catch a ball or run a ball, you want to make sure you're going forward and not going backward."
Notes: CB Kareem Jackson (right knee) did not practice Friday, and Kubiak said his availability will be a "game-time decision." Veteran Jason Allen would start in Jackson's place. ... RB Derrick Ward will sit out Sunday's game to nurse a right ankle sprain.