NFL Preview - Oakland (3-6) at Houston (2-7)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Expected to have head coach Gary Kubiak back on the sidelines, the Houston Texans try to snap the longest losing streak in franchise history this Sunday when they host an Oakland Raiders club that has not won on the road in over a year.
Coming off consecutive AFC South titles that netted the first two playoff appearances in club history, the Texans picked up right where they left off by opening the season 2-0. However, things have gone down hill since, with Houston having dropped seven in a row for the first time since entering the league ahead of the 2002 campaign.
The Texans were without running back Arian Foster and Kubiak last Sunday in Arizona, where they dropped a 27-24 decision to the Cardinals. Foster was out with a back issue that landed him on injured reserve this past Tuesday, while Kubiak was away from the club after suffering a mini-stroke during halftime of Houston's Week 9 loss to Indianapolis.
Kubiak, though, returned to the practice field on Wednesday and should be able to resume coaching duties this weekend barring a setback.
"Yeah, all my indications (are) that I will be able to," Kubiak said on Wednesday. "I had a big appointment (Tuesday). I talked to (doctors) yesterday and, if everything goes well this week, yes, I will. I feel great today. I don't foresee any reason why I won't be doing it."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over head coach duties this past weekend, but the results stayed the same. Houston failed to hold a halftime lead, giving up 13 straight points after the break before Case Keenum connected on a five-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson with 4:34 to play.
"It's obviously upsetting to all of us," Phillips said of the losing streak. "The team is going to stick together, I can tell you that. They're going to come back and work hard and try to do the right things to change."
Keenum, in his third straight start over Matt Schaub, threw for 201 yards with three touchdown passes, giving him seven scores to zero interceptions. Two of his scoring throws went to Johnson, while tight end Ryan Griffin also caught a touchdown pass.
Defensive end J.J. Watt recorded a sack, giving up 6 1/2 on the season, and also forced two fumbles that he recovered, but the Texans offense only logged 235 yards.
Veteran safety Ed Reed, having lost playing time to third-year man Shiloh Keo, had some choice words for the club after the game.
"Arizona played their best ball. We played really well outside of certain situations. Certain situations, we just got outplayed and outcoached," said Reed.
That won't be a concern for the veteran safety anymore as he was released by the club during the week.
The Raiders don't look as though they will be snapping their 10-year playoff drought as they come into the game 3-6 and in last place in the AFC West. Road struggles continue to plague the team as they have lost eight straight as the guest -- 0-4 this season -- since a victory in Kansas City on Oct. 28 of last year.
Oakland lost its second straight overall this past weekend, falling 24-20 to the hosting New York Giants.
Turnovers hindered the offense as Terrell Pryor's interception in the third quarter led to New York's go-ahead score and he also fumbled to derail Oakland's last series.
Pryor did account for the Raiders' lone offensive touchdown with a one-yard run less than a minute into the game, but completed just 11-of-26 passes for 122 yards.
"Obviously I didn't have a great game," Pryor said. "A lot of fingers easily could be pointed at me. I understand that. We understand that. We just have to move forward."
With Darren McFadden out with a hamstring injury, Rashad Jennings ran for 88 yards on 20 carries, while Tracy Porter returned an interception 43 yards for a score late in the first half.
The Raiders will try to snap their road slide in Houston, where they have split four all-time meetings with the Texans.
Oakland trails in the all-time series 5-2, but won the most recent encounter 25-20 on Oct. 9, 2011 in Houston. That victory came just one day after former owner Al Davis passed away.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Houston has the league's top-ranked defense (280.0 yards per game) and is only giving up 166.6 yards per game through the air, best in all of football. However, the Texans rank just 28th in giving up 27.6 points per game.
The defense has been without linebacker Brian Cushing because of a season- ending knee injury and saw linebacker Joe Mays (oblique) and cornerback Kareem Jackson (rib) get nicked up versus the Cardinals.
Even with safety Danieal Manning already lost for the season because of a fibula injury, the same ailment that cost tight end Owen Daniels his season in early October, the Texans still parted ways with the veteran Reed, a free agent signing this past offseason.
Reed signed a three-year, $15 million deal, but offseason surgery kept him off the field until Week 3. He had just 16 tackles, while Keo has logged 31 stops with an interception and safety D.J. Swearinger picked off his first career pass last weekend.
"Everybody has their own feelings about what's happening. They have their own ideas about what's happening or didn't happen," Phillips said on Monday. "We try to keep everything in house. That's our policy here and that's what we try to do and that's what I'm going to do."
On Wednesday, Kubiak said Reed's release was due to a diminished role and that he thought it would be fair to give the veteran a chance to play somewhere else.
Then there is the three-time Pro Bowler Foster, who has run for 542 yards with a touchdown this season but was forced out of action two weekends ago versus Indianapolis due to a back issue. He was slated for surgery this week.
Ben Tate ran for 56 yards on 15 carries versus the Cardinals, but is playing through a rib injury.
The Raiders have their own issues in the backfield with McFadden plagued by a nagging hamstring injury that forced him out of a loss to Philadelphia on Nov. 3 early.
But Jennings has been solid the past two weeks, running for 102 yards with a score versus the Eagles and adding seven receptions for 74 yards. He caught two passes against the Giants.
"It's a production business and when he's had the opportunity to go in there, he's produced. And when you do that you get more opportunities. So I was very pleased with the way he ran the football in the game the other day," Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said.
Allen also has a decision to make on Pryor, who said after the loss to the Giants that his knee is banged up. Pryor has managed to appear in eight of Oakland's nine games this season despite the issue, but does not have a passing touchdown in three straight weeks with five interceptions over that time.
"I think it was obvious that there wasn't that explosiveness that we had seen out of him prior to the injury," Allen noted on Monday. "I'll sit down and visit with Terrelle a little bit more to find out exactly where he is, physically. It wasn't something that we thought would be a big factor going into the game, but obviously it was a factor."
Neither Pryor or McFadden practiced on Wednesday. Matt McGloin would start if Pryor can't go this weekend.
Pryor has run for 504 yards this season, 26 shy of passing Rich Gannon's 2000 single-season club record.
Oakland's 16th-ranked defense was able to get some turnovers versus the Giants, recovering one of two forced fumbles in addition to the pick six. The Raiders also came away with three sacks, getting one each from defensive tackle Vance Walker and linebacker Sio Moore. The duo have combined for 6 1/2 of Oakland's 26 sacks on the season and Moore has 3 1/2 sacks in his past four games.
It has certainly been a trying season for the Texans, who have come in way under expectations. However, any player who fails to give 100 percent this weekend will have a tough time looking a retuning Kubiak in the eye.
"Our attitude is very positive. It's time to be strong, very strong. And that's what we're looking for is strength in people, strength in numbers as we move forward, and everybody having a positive attitude," said Houston's head coach.
Kubiak's return should provide a spark as well the fact that Houston's solid defense is facing a favorable matchup. That should help the Texans snap their skid while extending the Raiders' road troubles.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 20, Raiders 13
11/14 15:40:11 ET