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NFL Preview - Houston (2-6) at Arizona (4-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - As much as everyone parrots the words, "It's just another game week," this time it's probably not.
Instead, the Houston Texans will head to Arizona for a Week 10 matchup with the Cardinals with the image of something far frightening in their heads than a jarring hit or an agonizing loss.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak was hospitalized following what doctor's termed a "mini-stroke" as he jogged from the sidelines toward the locker room at halftime of the team's 27-24 home loss to Indianapolis on Sunday night.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been named interim coach in Kubiak's absence, which is indefinite. Kubiak, a former NFL player, left the hospital Tuesday and anticipates a full recovery, but he's not at all certain of a return anytime soon.
"I've been through an ordeal and my focus now is to get back to good health," Kubiak said.
The loss to the Colts came after Houston had built a 21-3 lead and seemed poised to end a prolonged losing streak which instead has reached a franchise- record six games.
The team's 2-0 start to the season - which included wins over San Diego and Tennessee - seems a century ago and the two-year stranglehold Houston has had on the AFC's South Division appears all but complete as well.
"It's been frustrating, especially after the past two seasons and the expectations," receiver Andre Johnson said. "But if you don't go out and play the way you're supposed to play you're not going to win. And we didn't do that so that's why we haven't been winning. Somehow some way we've got to go out and fix the mistakes we've been making and try to win a game."
Johnson failed to score in the team's first seven games and exceeded 100 yards just twice before catching three TD passes from QB Case Keenum in the loss to the Colts and ending up with nine receptions for 229 yards.
Keenum started once when former No. 1 Matt Schaub was injured, then maintained the starter's role over Schaub thanks to a decision made by Kubiak. He's thrown for four TDs and 621 yards and not been intercepted in his two-game stint.
His arsenal is in question, however, after running back Arian Foster left the Colts game with a back injury after the opening possession. A game earlier, Foster was limited by a hamstring injury and ran just four times for 11 yards against Kansas City.
Foster is listed as questionable this week, while backup Ben Tate is probable with a rib injury he sustained while running 22 times for 81 yards in Indianapolis.
"I'm just going through grinding trying to do the best to my ability," Tate said.
The Cardinals seemed a perfect matchup for a run-heavy Texans team after allowing nearly 300 combined ground yards to San Francisco and Seattle, but Arizona tightened its belt and held Atlanta to only 27 yards in a 27-13 defeat before last week's bye.
"We take a short-term look at long goals and then get back to the process of making sure we win this Sunday and forget about adding things up," coach Bruce Arians said. "We'll add them up in late December."
The Cardinals also ran a little bit themselves against Atlanta, with rookie Andre Ellington going for 154 yards in 15 carries - including an 80-yard TD - as part of a composite 201-yard team effort.
Ellington has averaged 7.7 yards per carry thus far and will share the load if feature back Rashard Mendenhall, who missed the Atlanta game with an injured toe, is back. Mendenhall is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Mendenhall has scored three times, but not rushed for more than 66 yards in a game. In two career meetings with Houston, he's run for 53 yards and scored once on 19 carries.
"You want to have that one-two punch," Arians said. "Andre's kind of got his role cut out. We'd like to, as I said last week, hopefully get him into space a couple of more times in the ball game."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Unleash the beast.
Because the running backs - Foster and Tate - are both hobbled, it seems a perfectly logical time for interim coach Phillips to take the wraps off the team's newest quarterbacking toy. Keenum threw effectively down the field and made plays with his legs early on against the Colts, and it'll be interesting to see what he does in that mindset for 60 minutes.
Rotate the runners.
Because Ellington is a home-run threat each time he carries the ball and Mendenhall is more of a bruiser, Arians has the luxury of being able to play his strengths in terms of when each man is used. The Texans have had a hard time stopping anyone in the run game, so it seems like a good chance for both to compile some numbers.
Maybe it's a "let's win one for coach Kubiak" scenario for the Texans. Or maybe, now that the skid has reached six and the division title and playoffs are fleeting hopes, it'll be an opportunity for the Houston players to concede and say, "OK, it's not our year."
Because they've got veterans and because Arizona is hardly the '85 Bears, expect the morale to carry the day.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 23, Cardinals 20
11/07 12:28:46 ET