Houston, TX - While the Houston Texans emerge from their bye week firmly in the hunt for the first playoff berth in franchise history, their next opponent is already relishing its role as a spoiler.
The Texans will be the latest team to attempt to slow down the NFL's leading rusher, but Chris Johnson hopes to carry the Tennessee Titans to a fourth straight victory in Monday night's AFC South matchup.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Texans -6.5 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Monday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on the Texans +6.5 (View NFL bet percentages).
An improved defense and a prolific passing game led by Matt Schaub have helped Houston (5-4) to a winning record through nine games for the first time in its eight seasons.
Perhaps the biggest sign of progress was the Texans' reaction following a 20-17 loss at Indianapolis on Nov. 8 before their week off. Kris Brown missed a 42-yard field goal as time expired, and Houston wasn't happy merely coming close to beating the undefeated Colts.
"There are no moral victories," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "Are we getting better? I think we are. The biggest thing is just winning. You can get better all you want, but if you're not winning, it really doesn't matter."
Houston needs victories in order to keep pace in a crowded wild-card race, but a win over the Titans looks like a much tougher task than it did a few weeks ago.
Tennessee (3-6) has gotten healthier on defense and regained its confidence after a disastrous start, going 3-0 since Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins at quarterback.
"Right now we are in a situation where we just have to play the rest of our games and if we win them all, maybe something good will happen," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "We're trying to stand in anyone's way who is trying to go to the postseason, so it makes it fun for us."
The matchup may hinge on Houston's ability to contain Johnson, who has totaled 495 rushing yards, 136 receiving yards and six touchdowns during the winning streak.
The Texans are well aware after Johnson racked up 197 yards on 16 carries and added nine catches for 87 yards against them in Week 2, also scoring three touchdowns. Houston still managed a 34-31 victory, thanks to Schaub's 357 passing yards and four touchdowns.
The Texans would prefer to prevent a similar effort by Johnson, which seems possible considering they have held their last six opponents to an average of 60.5 rushing yards - the fewest in the NFL in that stretch.
"The defense, they've come a long way," coach Gary Kubiak said. "To me, they're just getting better and better. They're the strength of our football team right now, the way they're playing."
Schaub has also gained attention for his strong play, ranking third in the NFL behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in passing yards. The only drawback has been his nine interceptions, contributing to Houston's 16 turnovers - six of which have come in the last two games.
Steve Slaton was benched due to fumbling problems Nov. 1 at Buffalo, leaving the Texans' running back situation complicated after Ryan Moats was held to 38 yards on 16 carries by Indianapolis.
"The turnovers have to be fixed in order for us to get where we want to go," Johnson said. "It's kind of crazy. We are turning the ball over, but we are still putting ourselves in situations to win games."
Tennessee has an 8-1 edge in turnover margin during its win streak, with Young playing responsibly. After struggling with interceptions earlier in his career, the Houston native and former Texas star has been picked off once in 62 attempts since getting the starting job back.
While his numbers haven't been prolific, his total of passing yards has increased each week and he has completed 71.0 percent of his throws.
That has been enough with Johnson in the backfield. Johnson is the third player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and average at least 6.4 per carry through nine games, joining Jim Brown (1963) and Adrian Peterson (2007).
He had 132 rushing yards and 100 receiving in last Sunday's 41-17 home win over Buffalo.
"I would say I'm the best back in the league, but that is not my situation to argue about that," Johnson said. "I just got to go out there on the field and prove that."
Young won his only previous professional start in his hometown with a 39-yard touchdown run in overtime for a 26-20 Titans victory Dec. 10, 2006. Since the Texans' inception, Tennessee is 5-2 in the city that the former Oilers used to call home.
Titans owner Bud Adams, who founded the franchise and moved it to Nashville in 1997, was fined $250,000 this week after cameras showed the 86-year-old making obscene gestures toward Bills fans last Sunday.
Posted: 11/18/09 7:45PM ET