No surprise: Kubiak expects Yates to play vs. Bengals

Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates’ shoulder injury is not expected to jeopardize his availability for Saturday’s playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Reliant Stadium.

Yates bruised his non-throwing (left) shoulder in the first quarter on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. With the Texans already locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC, he did not return to the game for precautionary reasons.

“He’s feeling pretty good today,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Monday. “I mean, he’s sore. Like I said, we still think he could’ve came back in the game yesterday, so all indications are that he’ll be ready to go next weekend. Obviously, we’ve got to get him back on the practice field to feel good and confident about that, but all indications are that we’ll get there. We’ll do it day-to-day.”

After getting injured on the Texans’ first play on Sunday, Yates stayed in the game and completed 4-of-4 passes for 47 yards. He led the offense on a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive.

“If he can play, he’s going to play,” Kubiak said. “He played really well yesterday, was very sharp early in the game. Continues to do good stuff, as I’ve told y’all. He’s very young and this is a big, big game, but he’s the best guy for our football team and if he’s able to go and do the things that we need him to do in practice, then we’ll turn him loose and let him go.”

In six games, Yates has completed 82-of-134 passes (61.2 percent) for 949 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He has a passer rating of 80.7. The fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns at Cincinnati in Week 14, leading the Texans to a 20-19 comeback victory.

Kubiak said he has been impressed with Yates’ preparation behind the scenes.

“Sitting down (with him) the night before a game, answering questions, going through a game plan, his reads and all those things, he’s a very quick thinker on the field,” Kubiak said. “Things happen fast for him. Sometimes they happen a little too fast, and you can see that as a young guy, but he’s very sharp with what we’re trying to go get done on gameday. He handles the group very well. They’ve got a lot of confidence in him. Even though he’s young and has his own issues, he can still help everybody out and seems to be getting better every time that he’s out there.”

Right guard is the only other Texans starter with a significant injury concern heading into Saturday. He has missed the last three games after fracturing his fibula against the Bengals on Dec. 11. Kubiak is hopeful Brisiel can return to practice this week and said he “may be able to contribute this next weekend.”

Kubiak said that offensive tackle (hip), linebacker (neck) and cornerback (back spasms) are all day-to-day.

Bye Week Review: Dominant running game leads offense

Ten games into the 2011 season, the Texans’ offense could easily be defined by injuries to its marquee players. Instead, the story has been how well the offense has performed despite those injuries.

Lose 2010 NFL rushing leader to a hamstring injury for two of the first three games? No problem. The Texans went 2-1, averaging 400.7 yards and 30.0 points per game.

Lose All-Pro wide receiver to a hamstring injury for six games from Weeks 5-10? Meh. The Texans went 4-2, averaging 407.0 yards and 27.7 points.

Lose quarterback to a foot injury in Week 10? How the Texans respond with under center remains to be seen. But if the way they’ve overcome adversity all season long is any indication, they should be just fine.

Foster, Johnson and Schaub have played together for a grand total of three-and-a-half quarters this season, but the Texans rank eighth in offense (396.2 yards/game) and fifth in scoring (27.3). The catalyst has been their third-ranked running game (158.1). Foster and both rank in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards, and the Texans lead the NFL in average time of possession (33:51).

Schaub’s completion percentage (61.0) is down from his career average, but he ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating (96.8) and second in yards per attempt (8.49, a career-high). He has thrown 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Texans are optimistic that Leinart can play with similar efficiency.

Tight end leads the team with 478 yards on 37 catches. Foster is right behind him with 445 yards on 31 catches. Johnson, in less than four games, has 25 catches for 352 yards. Six different Texans players – Daniels, tight end , Foster, Johnson and wide receivers and – have two or more receiving touchdowns.

On to the Bye Week Offensive Awards:

MVP: Arian Foster

Foster has been nothing short of sensational since overcoming his hamstring injury. He has topped 100 yards rushing and/or receiving in six of seven games, which includes three 100-yard receiving games. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October after piling up 809 yards from scrimmage, third-most in October in NFL history. At his current per-game pace, he’s on track for 1,295 rushing yards, 779 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns despite missing two-and-a-half games at the start of the season.

Unsung hero: Offensive line

The driving force behind the Texans’ dominant running game is an offensive line that runs like a well-oiled machine. Center , tackles and and guards and have started every game this season. Myers was named a team captain at midseason but declined to wear the “C” patch because he didn’t want the attention. That epitomizes this cohesive group that revels in anonymity as it springs gaping holes for Foster and Tate. None of the Texans’ linemen have ever been selected to a Pro Bowl, but that’s bound to change if the final six games of the season are anything like the first 10.

Breakout player: Ben Tate

After missing his rookie season with an ankle injury, Tate wasted no time in showing why the Texans used a second-round pick on him last year. Stepping in for Foster, he ran for 100 yards in both of the first two games of the season, becoming the 11th player in NFL history to start his career with back-to-back 100-yard games. He has two 100-yard games since Foster’s return, providing power, explosion and big-play ability off the bench. Tate ranks 10th in the league in rushing (686 yards), fourth in yards per carry (5.6) and second in runs of 10 yards or more (27).

Top individual performance: Arian Foster at Tennessee (Week 7)

All Foster did against the Titans was rush for 115 yards on 25 carries (4.6 average), catch five passes for 119 yards and score three touchdowns, becoming the fourth player since 1970 with 100 yards rushing and receiving and three touchdowns in one game. His career-long 78-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter put the Texans up 17-0. He followed that with two rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Texans cruised to a 41-7 victory.

Top team performance: At Tennessee (Week 7)

In the most lopsided victory in team history, the Texans put up their most yards (518) and points (41) of the season. Foster and Tate both had 100 rushing yards. The Texans controlled the clock for 37:58. Schaub was 18-of-23 passing for 296 and two touchdowns with a career-high 147.7 rating. Seven different receivers caught a pass. The Texans scored on five consecutive possessions after punting on their first two.

Injury to watch: Matt Schaub (foot)

The Texans will know next week whether Schaub has a chance to return this season. He’ll visit doctors from Charlotte, N.C., and Indianapolis to see if he can avoid having season-ending surgery. Either way, his injury puts the spotlight squarely on Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and 2006 first-round pick who hasn’t started a game since 2009. Leinart has not thrown a pass in his two seasons in Houston, but the Texans’ play-action-heavy offense suits his skill set. Texans coaches and players are confident he can pick up where Schaub left off and keep the team marching toward the playoffs.

Five things to watch: Texans vs. Browns

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (5-3) take on the Cleveland Browns (3-4) in Week 9 on Salute to the Military day at Reliant Stadium. Kickoff is on Sunday at noon CT.

The Texans are 3-3 all-time against the Browns, including a victory in their last meeting with Cleveland in 2008.

1. Starting fast: The slow starts that plagued the Texans in 2010 are nowhere to be found this season. They have outscored opponents 57-13 in the first quarter this season. The Browns, meanwhile, have been outscored 44-3 in the first quarter.

The Texans have allowed the fewest first-half points and scored the most points in the NFL this season, outscoring opponents 124-42 in the first two quarters. That first-half scoring differential of 82 is the largest in the NFL. Quarterback has a 104.6 passer rating in the first half this season, fourth-best in the NFL. He has completed 64.9 percent of his first-half passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Another fast start against the Browns, who have a -30 first-half scoring differential this season, could allow the Texans to lean on Foster and Tate and grind out the clock in the second half. The Texans rank third in the NFL with 33:31 in time of possession per game this season.

2. Run, run, run: The Texans have the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the league, averaging 141.9 yards per game. The Browns have the fifth-best defense overall but rank 26th against the run, allowing 127.7 yards per game.

Texans All-Pro wide receiver is out yet again with a hamstring injury, but All-Pro running back is rounding into midseason form. Despite missing two-and-a-half of the first three games with a hamstring injury, Foster ranks ninth in the NFL with 532 rushing yards. He and backup Ben (508 yards) are the only pair of teammates with 500-plus yards this season.

Foster was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October after totaling 499 rushing yards, 310 receiving yards and five touchdowns in five games. His 809 yards from scrimmage were the third-most in the month of October in NFL history. He had at least 100 yards rushing and/or receiving in four out of five games, a ratio he looks ripe to improve this week.

3. Nice to see you: The Browns feature three former Texans in running back Chris Ogbonnaya, punter Brad Maynard and senior assistant coach on defense Ray Rhodes. Texans fullback spent the first five seasons of his career with the Browns.

Ogbonnaya, signed off the Texans’ practice squad three weeks ago, will likely be the Browns’ starting running back this Sunday. Second-stringer Montario Hardesty is out with a calf injury, and starter Peyton Hills is questionable after re-injuring his hamstring on Friday. Maynard, a 15th-year veteran, was cut by the Texans after training camp in favor of undrafted rookie . Rhodes was on the Texans’ coaching staff from 2008-10.

Vickers blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers in five seasons in Cleveland, but the Browns did not offer to re-sign him this offseason. He should continue to play a prominent role as a lead blocker in the Texans’ rushing offense as works his way back from a chest injury.

“I’m excited about it,” Vickers said. “It’s a challenge. We’re looking forward to going out there, playing our hard-nose football game, but at the same time, I get to see some of my buddies I missed. I spent the last five years with them, so they’re excited about it. They’ve been texting me, telling me don’t try to do all my little stuff. They know me… They’ve just been telling me, ‘Hey man, don’t try to take my head off. I’m going to knock you out.’

“I’m physical. I like to drive people into the ground, talk smack and finish them. Really I don’t like the people I go against until the clock is over with. They know that, but they know I know how to show love and still pound on people. I know how to do that.”

4. Containing Cribbs: Cleveland wide receiver Joshua Cribbs is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and the Browns find plenty of ways to get it to him.

Aside from returning kickoffs and punts, Cribbs ranks third on the Browns with 248 receiving yards, leads the team with 14.6 yards per catch and is tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns. He also has a rushing attempt and has even has lined up at quarterback this season.

But special teams is where Cribbs is at his best. An All-Pro returner in 2007 and 2009, he has the NFL career record with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. Cribbs is averaging 10.8 yards per punt return and 25.1 yards per kickoff return this season, right on line with his career averages of 10.7 and 25.8.

“He can beat you by himself,” Kubiak said on Wednesday. “We’ve got to have a plan for him. You can’t keep the ball out of his hands. He’ll bring it out of the end zone nine yards deep. He’s done it many times. This guy’s capable of putting 14 points on the board on you as a returner. Big problem this week.”

5. Wrapping up McCoy: This will be Browns quarterback Colt McCoy’s first NFL game in his home state of Texas. The former University of Texas star was the winningest quarterback in FBS history, compiling a 45-8 career record while setting numerous school records for the Longhorns.

A dual-threat quarterback, McCoy is ninth in the league in passing attempts but has only nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He ranks 25th in passer rating (76.4), 26th in completion percentage (57.0) and 32nd in yards per attempt (5.66). He has been sacked 16 times in seven games. Still, the 2010 third-round pick has drawn favorable reviews from Texans defensive players, who are well aware of his elusiveness and ability to make plays outside the pocket.

“There’s a lot of guys where you’re watching the film and you think, ‘Wow, they got a good sack here,’ and all of a sudden he squirts out, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” defensive end said. “We’re trying to make sure we get him wrapped up. We’re trying to make sure we keep him contained and get those sacks that other guys might have missed.”