Texans' Carr staying upright more and loving it

Updated: October 4, 2003, 1:02 PM ET

HOUSTON -- David Carr became an unwilling expert on the grass at Houston's Reliant Stadium last year. For that matter, he got to know eight other fields pretty well, too, as opposing defenses abused him to the tune of a record 76 sacks.

Fortunately for Carr and the Texans, his botany skills are starting to grow rusty. He's been sacked only seven times in four games and is ranked 16th in the unwanted statistic as the Texans (2-2) enjoy their bye week coming off a last-second 24-20 victory at home against Jacksonville.

Carr's skyrocketing sacks total became an ugly joke last year that persisted into the offseason.

Some in the organization privately were miffed when ESPN ran a promo for its draft day coverage last April showing Carr lined up behind center Steve McKinney in a game, but the other four linemen had been digitally removed.

"What does your team need?" the voiceover asked.

General manager Charley Casserly tried to address the problem for the second-year Texans, though it wasn't clear until the season started whether the three new starters on the line would make a difference. So far they have, although the experience Carr gained after his rocky rookie year has helped, too.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things," Carr said. "The play-calling is geared toward me getting the ball out of my hand. I've made a conscious effort to get the ball out of my hand and not even being close to letting (defenses) get anything going."

To put Carr's sacks total after four games in perspective, he had been sacked 26 times heading into the same Week 5 bye last year. There were three games in which Carr was sacked more than he has been throughout this quarter-season: at San Diego (nine), at Cleveland (eight) and at Philadelphia (seven).

Hugh Douglas, the star right end who had one of the Eagles' sacks last year, was on Jacksonville's defensive line in last Sunday's loss to Houston. This time, second-year left tackle Chester Pitts shut him out, just as he shut out 2002 sacks king Jason Taylor in Houston's opener at Miami.

"I don't know if I'd say I dominated (Douglas)," Pitts said. "I felt like I played a pretty decent game. I played hard. He played hard, too. I'd just say that the matchup wasn't as lopsided as it was last year."

The Texans didn't yield a sack to Miami and gave up one each to Jacksonville and Kansas City. The only poor matchup came in New Orleans, where the Saints got to Carr five times.

Pitts and McKinney are the only holdovers from 2002. The Texans took left guard Milford Brown in the 2002 supplemental draft, but he didn't see his first game action until this year.

The right side of the line is brand new, with veterans Zach Wiegert at guard and Greg Randall at tackle. Todd Washington was plucked from Tampa Bay as a backup center/guard and has started the last two weeks as Brown recovers from a minor knee injury.

Coach Dom Capers cites the increase in experience across the offense for all the statistical improvements. The Texans rank 15th in yards per game after being at or near the bottom all last season.

"I think you look back to a year ago, I don't know if anybody had ever started six rookies on an NFL team before (all on offense), so we knew there were going to be some things we would have to iron out," Capers said. "We spent a lot of time in the offseason, we upgraded our personnel and we've had more continuity in our offensive line."

The line, ravaged by injuries before and during the 2002 season, wasn't the only culprit, Capers said. Running backs were unable to get a ground attack going and were missing some blocks, and Carr took time to get adjusted to the speed of the NFL.

And now, the Texans are getting some positive television airplay as Carr's daring win-or-lose touchdown dive at the end of the Jaguars game was the talk of the league during the week.

"It feels good to actually be recognized a little bit," Carr said, "but we've got to keep playing better."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index