Thursday notebook: Johnson chasing historic milestone

Texans linebacker returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a sore foot. Wide receiver missed practice for the second consecutive day to rest his sprained right ankle.

“We’ll see where Andre’s at tomorrow,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “It’ll probably still be a game-time decision. I don’t think he’ll do much (Friday).”

Asked if he was more concerned about Johnson’s availability than in previous weeks, Kubiak said, “I’d say it’s the same at this point today.” Johnson has been injured since Week 2, but he has played in every game except for the Texans’ Week 4 trip to Oakland.

Chasing 1,500
Johnson needs 284 yards in the final two games to become the first receiver in NFL history with 1,500 yards in three consecutive seasons. He had 1,575 in 2008 and 1,569 in 2009, and he has 1,216 so far in 2010.

“It would mean a lot,” Kubiak said. “It is something that I thought about, and I know it would be important to him, throughout the season. I’ll be honest with you, seven or eight weeks ago, I didn’t think there was a chance in hell in where he was with his foot and the time he had missed. Yet he continued to play well and have big days. It would mean a great deal, but at the same time, we’ve got to be smart in what we’re doing with him. So I’ll strictly listen to him, but it has been on our mind.”

Johnson and Marvin Harrison (2001-02) are the only receivers with 1,500 yards in two consecutive seasons.

“Like I’ve said before, I’d rather be playing to go to the playoffs, having something like that happen, than to be worried about getting to 1,500 yards,” Johnson said. “But of course you would love for it to happen.”

Sharpton standing out
On Monday, Kubiak said that rookie linebacker played as well as anybody on the team in Week 15. A fourth-round pick from Miami (Fla.), Sharpton has started the last five games at weakside linebacker.

“He got a chance to play and kept getting better and better,” Kubiak said on Thursday. “Last week, it was so impressive what he did. The whole team watched the film together. He’s a guy that’s proven every week that he belongs here. He’s getting better. We are giving a chance to lead a little bit more in these last two weeks. I’m very impressed with what’s happening… He’s a downhill, physical player.”

All-Pro Owen
After missing five games with a hamstring injury, tight end has nine catches for 136 yards in the last two weeks. The 2008 Pro Bowler could be headed for a strong finish to the season.

“He’s back,” Kubiak said. “He was mad at me for about five or six weeks when we went through that situation when we sat him. I thought it was best for his career moving forward. So he’s got a smile back on his face. He’s played like Owen Daniels these last two weeks. He’ll be back, and he’ll be an All-Pro. I’ve been very impressed with the job the training staff has done with him. It’s been hard on him, but we did the right thing by him and he’ll benefit from it.”

Surgery for Mario
Defensive end had surgery on Tuesday to repair the sports hernia that landed him on injured reserve on Dec. 15.

“He was actually out here today walking around,” Kubiak said. “He flew back here yesterday and had some pretty extensive work done on both sides. He’s not feeling very good and has got a long road back. (But) it was done, and to my understanding, done well and successfully.”

Williams, who had a streak of 77 consecutive starts snapped by the injury, had 8.5 sacks in 13 games this season.

Five things to watch: Texans vs. Ravens

The Texans are 0-3 all-time against the Ravens. Baltimore won the last meeting 41-13 in Houston in 2008.

1. Tough test for Foster: Texans running back , who led the league in rushing yards through 12 games, will contend with the league’s sixth-ranked rushing defense.

The Ravens are allowing only 97.8 rushing yards per game. Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis and Carolina’s Mike Goodson both eclipsed 120 rushing yards against Baltimore this season, but nobody else has run for more than 79.

Foster already has had the seventh-best season by an undrafted player in NFL history with 1,230 rushing yards. He needs 49 more to reclaim the league rushing lead from Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

With 53 rushing yards, Foster will top (1,282 yards in 2008) for the Texans’ single-season rushing record. With 68 total yards, he’ll pass Domanick Williams (1,776, 2004) for the Texans’ single-season record for yards from scrimmage.

2. Withstanding the heat: A big night from Foster would help mitigate the impact of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of the key players in Monday’s game.

The Ravens have only 22 sacks this season, but Suggs (6-3, 260) has nine of them. He has 5.5 sacks in his last five games, including 1.5 in a dominant performance against the Steelers last Sunday.

The Texans also will try to slow down massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a 350-pound force who lines up inside and out. Ngata is second on the Ravens with 5.5 sacks.

The Texans’ pass protection has improved over the course of the season. Quarterback was sacked 11 times in the first three games of the season, but he has been sacked only 15 times in the last nine games.

3. Rested-and-ready stars: Texans wide receiver and defensive end will be well-rested following an 11-day break between games. The two Pro Bowlers have been playing through injuries for most of the season.

Johnson suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and has been taking gameday shots to numb the pain ever since. He still ranks fourth in the league with 1,018 receiving yards and will face a Ravens secondary that has question marks at cornerback.

Williams has a sports hernia that Texans coach Gary Kubiak said was tough for him to play through on only five days’ rest in Week 13. He’s ready to go for this one. The two best games of Williams’ career have come in primetime, and only five quarterbacks have been sacked more times this season than the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (27).

4. Tight end effect: Texans tight end will return after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury.

will start the game, but both he and Daniels will see a significant amount of reps. Daniels hasn’t played since aggravating his hamstring on Nov. 1 at Indianapolis, as the Texans have patiently worked their 2008 Pro Bowler back to 100 percent.

One of the Texans’ biggest issues this year has been sustaining drives in the first half, which has contributed to consistent halftime deficits. Daniels could be part of the solution: Almost 68 percent of his career catches have resulted in first downs.

For the Ravens, starting tight end Todd Heap will be inactive with a thigh injury. Heap has 37 catches, 546 yards and five touchdowns this season. Starting in his place will be rookie Ed Dickson, who has a eight-career catches for 112 yards.

5. Defending deep: The Texans will have to be wary of the deep ball against Flacco. The strong-armed quarterback ranks third in the league with 57 pass attempts of 21-plus yards in the air. He has completed 20 of those passes with seven touchdowns, good for a 108.4 situational passer rating.

The Texans have allowed the third-most completions on passes of 21-plus yards in the air (19), which includes five touchdowns. They rank last in the league in total passing defense by more than 21 yards per game.

It’s not all gloom and doom for the Texans, as the Ravens have had struggles of their own on offense. Baltimore ranks 17th in the NFL in scoring (21.7 points/game) and is tied for 31st with 3.6 yards per carry.

Every team on the Texans’ schedule this season currently ranks in the top-15 in the league in offense, with the exception of three: the Titans (28th), Redskins (17th) and Ravens (16th). The Texans shut out the Titans 20-0 in Week 12 and shut down the Redskins in the fourth quarter and overtime of a 30-27 victory in Week 2.