Texans focus on knocking off Colts

HOUSTON -- If there is a singular focus to Houston Texans training camp, it is the obvious -- you can't win the AFC South without beating the Indianapolis Colts.

So far, no good. The Colts are 15-1 against the Texans since Houston was awarded an expansion team. Some of their most painful defeats have come against Indianapolis, including a 35-27 loss Nov. 29 when the Texans blew a 20-7 lead at home.

That was the big thud to an 0-4 stretch to finish November, and it took a 4-0 stretch at the end of the 2009 season to salvage their first winning year at 9-7 and perhaps save the job of coach Gary Kubiak. This was a team that couldn't close the deal in the final minutes of critical games, but it hopes to draw from those experiences.

"I think you have to get in those spots to learn how to play and win those football games," Kubiak said. "The good news is, out of 16 games, we had 15 of those where we had a chance to win [last season]. Now we have to go do it and get over that hump, as you say."

If the Texans are to earn their first playoff berth, a victory over the Colts in the opener at home would be a good start.

"They're the king of the division until someone knocks 'em off, and we'd love to do that with the first game of the season," Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.

The oddity of 2009 for Houston is that it had statistical star power on offense with wide receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub, but the defense carried the team.

It is a defense that must open the season without NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, who must serve a four-game suspension for violation of the league's performance enhancement policy.

"We're over the shock, so to speak, but Brian's handling it like a pro," Kubiak said. "We've got to treat it like an injury."

More observations from Texans training camp:

  • Houston owner Bob McNair has made it clear he intends to make Johnson the NFL's highest-paid receiver soon, probably by the preseason opener Aug. 14.

  • Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels suffered what Kubiak described as a setback in his rehab from knee surgery at midseason in 2009, but he said he is hopeful Houston can get him back for the opener. The Texans were 5-3 when Daniels suffered a torn ACL in Buffalo, then proceeded to lose four straight divisional games.

  • With new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison reuniting with Kubiak from their Denver days, a huge focus is balancing the offense with a rejuvenated running game.

    The competition is young and heated. Arian Foster, a second-year back from Tennessee described by the Texans as "a young man with a chip on his shoulder," played well at the end of last season. Steve Slaton, who had fumbling issues and eventually was shut down last season because of a neck injury, is healthier and slimmer. Rookie Ben Tate of Auburn has played well.

  • There perhaps is even a more heated competition at kicker. The Texans signed ex-Cardinal Neil Rackers to battle veteran Kris Brown.

    "I told our team that not many teams have two kickers like we have going head to head, so respect the battle," Kubiak said. "We're going to end up with a great kicker, and the other one is probably going to be somewhere trying to beat us."

  • Schaub threw for 4,770 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, but his goal, aside from winning, is to cut his interceptions into the single-digit range. He had 15 picks last season. It won't hurt to have Johnson, Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones as his wideouts. The Texans believe Jones will continue to provide explosive plays.

  • Rookie returner Trindon Holliday, the ex-LSU Tiger who won the 2009 NCAA 100-meter championship with a 10-second clocking, is an early buzz player. At 5-foot-5 and 165 pounds, Holliday can vanish in a flash.

  • Yes, the Texans no longer have cornerback Dunta Robinson, who signed with the Falcons as a free agent, but top draft pick Kareem Jackson is getting rave reviews. He started 40 games at Alabama, where coach Nick Saban tutors the cornerbacks.

    ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen will file reports from all the training camps and sends updates on the road via Twitter (@mortreport).