HOUSTON – Gary Kubiak has been worrying all week.
As soon as the Houston Texans returned from a win at Oakland last Sunday, general manager Rick Smith gave the coach an alarming update: The Giants had put up nine sacks in the first half of a 17-3 win over Chicago and knocked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of the game with a concussion. Every starter on New York's defensive line wound up with at least one sack and ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora finished with three apiece.
The next guy in the Giants' crosshairs? Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
"It's scary," Kubiak said. "What they did in that game hasn't been done too many times in this league. They can get after you, they can cause a lot of problems."
The Texans (3-1) think their versatile offense is better equipped than the Bears' pass-oriented system to handle the intimidating defensive front of the Giants (2-2).
Even with the sacks, Houston ranks second in the league in total offense (415.5 yards per game) and has put up big numbers both running and passing, though usually not in the same game. The Texans said the Bears and offensive coordinator Mike Martz were too predictable in their play-calling and it cost them against New York.
"Defensive linemen in this league are not stupid. They know what's going on," Houston left tackle Rashad Butler said. "They knew the Bears were going to throw the ball 40-plus times a game. I'm pretty sure after a while they weren't even trying to play the run."
Houston will test the Giants with the NFL's leading rusher, Arian Foster, and the league's top rushing offense (172 yards per game). New York's defense ranks 22nd in stopping the run (117.2 yards per game), and let Tennessee's Chris Johnson rush for 125 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-10 loss two weeks ago.
The Texans are less certain about the status of star receiver Andre Johnson, who missed last week's 31-24 win in Oakland with a sprained right ankle. Johnson sat out Wednesday's practice, but Kubiak was optimistic that Johnson will play against New York.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said his defense showed major progress in limiting the Bears to 110 yards and six first downs. The defense has been learning a new scheme under first-year coordinator Perry Fewell.
"We just caution them to remember now that it's just getting started," Coughlin said. "We applied the plan, we executed the plan. Some of the things that we thought we could do we did very well, we did them with consistency, we did them over four quarters."
Coughlin has injury concerns on the offensive side.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who rushed for 129 yards against Chicago, sat out Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury. And the offensive line has been shuffled a bit with center Shaun O'Hara unlikely to play due to an ankle injury. His backup, Adam Koets, sustained a mild knee strain against the Bears and left guard Rich Seubert moved over to play center this week. Tackle David Diehl took Seubert's spot and Shawn Andrews replaced Diehl.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning had planned to talk to his older brother about attacking the Houston defense. Peyton Manning threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns in the Colts' season-opening loss to the Texans.
"They've got a number of great players with great speed up the field," Eli Manning said. "Especially if their offense can get a lead, those athletic defensive ends and defensive tackles are going to fly up the field and make it tough. We need to mix in ways to get the ball out quickly while also getting a chance to get the ball down the field."
The Texans should get a boost with the return of linebacker Brian Cushing after a four-game drug suspension. Cushing had 133 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions last season to win the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and the Texans think he will help both the pass rush and a secondary that's allowing a league-worst 338 yards passing per game.
"I don't look at myself as a savior or anything, but I definitely think I can add a lot," Cushing said. "I can add a lot of attitude, I can add a lot of just speed. It's not a pressure on me, it's something I expect out of myself."