HOUSTON (AP) Ryan Mallett has had a tough time since taking over as starting quarterback for the Houston Texans.
Mallett has one win and two losses, including last week's lopsided defeat to the Falcons, after Brian Hoyer was benched in Week 1. But the Texans still think Mallett can turn things around and help Houston overcome its 1-3 start as the team prepares to meet the Colts on Thursday night.
Coach Bill O'Brien put Hoyer in late in Houston's 48-21 loss to Atlanta on Sunday and he directed the offense to three touchdown drives against mostly backups. Some wondered if that was an indication that Mallett's chance was over, but instead O'Brien said he's sticking with the former New England backup.
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Though Mallett is in his fifth season in the NFL, he's had very limited playing time after toiling behind Tom Brady for three seasons before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury just two games after he became the starter in Houston last season. On Sunday he'll start just his sixth NFL game and it will be his first against an AFC South opponent.
Mallett hates talking about himself and tends to answer questions in clipped sentences. But it's clear that his problems this season are weighing on him. He has thrown for 720 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions this season, but was unable to help Houston to any points on Sunday.
''Anytime I don't play well, I take it personally,'' he said. ''Whatever the case might be, I always want to try and improve on that and get better.''
The Colts know better than to underestimate Mallett even in the wake of what was probably his worst game this season.
''He's a special athlete. He's a special player,'' Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. ''We got a ton of respect for him and they've got playmakers around him. He's a guy that ... if he's got time and he can sit back there, he'll pick you apart.''
Offensive coordinator George Godsey believes one reason why Mallett has had trouble this season is because the Texans have failed to put together a balanced game.
''Not making it one-dimensional. Being able to run, being able to mix up play action, being able to mix the intermediate drop-back passing, I think that helps any quarterback,'' Godsey said. ''That's the goal really, to start out and be really balanced between run and pass.''
Part of Houston's inability to do that is because star running back Arian Foster has played just one game after having groin surgery in August. He ran for just 10 yards in his season debut last week, but the Texans expect him to get much more work this week.
Foster hopes he'll feel more like himself this week after his work on Sunday. But he knows that it could take a while to mesh with the rest of the unit after missing so much time.
''That's the thing about offense. It has to be a well-oiled machine and it takes time to develop and you have a short amount of time to do that,'' he said. ''We're all professionals and doing what we can to accomplish that.''
Also important to Mallett's success will be his ability to find DeAndre Hopkins. So far he's done a good job of that and Hopkins leads the team and is fifth in the NFL with 31 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns. His solid work has helped fans deal with the sting of Houston releasing Andre Johnson after 12 seasons with the team. Johnson signed with the Colts after his release and this will be his first game back in Houston.
Hopkins refers to Johnson as his big brother and said it will be strange to see him in a different uniform. But he's much more concerned about the Colts' secondary than he is about seeing Johnson again.
''They're aggressive,'' he said. ''They're going to get up on you and make you earn every yard. They're not just going to give you anything.''
The Texans were stunned by their tough loss to the Falcons, but are encouraged by the fact that the Colts, who lead the division, are just one game ahead of them.
''We're ready to go. It's a division game,'' Mallett said. ''I don't think it's going to take a lot to get ready to play for this one.''
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