Kubiak eager for Texans to test Saints defense

August 19, 2011 4:45:19 PM PDT
Houston coach Gary Kubiak says the New Orleans Saints will give the Texans a valuable look at a defense they don't see much in practice anymore.

The Saints visit Reliant Stadium on Saturday night, marking the fourth straight year the teams have met in the preseason. The teams, from cities separated by only 350 miles, have also held joint practices in years past, but opted not to this year because of the lockout.

The Texans have been learning the 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Kubiak said the unit will benefit from facing the Saints' 4-3 alignment.

Houston beat the New York Jets, another team that plays a 3-4 defense, in its preseason opener.

"We've got a lot of experience against the 4-3," Kubiak said. "Our whole division (the AFC South) is a 4-3. That is the difference in our team this year. We work (in practice) against a 3-4, so our 4-3 reps have to be carded and orchestrated. It's a little bit different and this one's a tough one and a quick turnaround. We really get 2 1/2 days of practice to play this game, so we're just trying to get them fresh and ready to go."

Kubiak and Saints coach Sean Payton plan to play their starters for most, if not all, of the first half on Saturday. New Orleans beat San Francisco 24-3 in its exhibition opener last week.

"You want to see progress week to week. I think it is always important," Payton said. "You want to play well. You want to improve from the things you didn't do well the week before. It will be nothing different than the second week the last four or five years in preseason.

Saints cornerback Tracy Porter (left knee) will sit out Saturday's game, but Payton said safety Malcolm Jenkins (right knee) will play, even though he's been limited at practice this week.

Quarterback Drew Brees went 1-for-4 in the preseason opener, but he'll get a boost this week from the return of Marques Colston, the Saints' leading receiver in 2010. Colston skipped the 49ers game to rest his surgically repaired right kneecap.

The Saints' first-string offense will offer a formidable challenge to the Texans' defense, which showed signs of improvement in the opener after ranking last in the league against the pass in 2010. The Texans produced seven sacks, and the secondary broke up several passes against the Jets.

"I thought we did a good job," Phillips said. "I mean, we played hard. We made some mistakes, obviously, but we're looking for effort and assignment, making sure we didn't have any mental errors."

Houston's defense may be short-handed Saturday night. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans bruised his left elbow in the Jets' game, and Kubiak said cornerback Johnathan Joseph was "50-50" to play because of a nagging groin injury.

Kubiak is more optimistic that running backs Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher in 2010, and Ben Tate, a second-round draft pick last summer, will get some carries after missing practice time with hamstring injuries.

The newest concern is the thinning depth on the offensive line. Backup tackle Rashad Butler re-aggravated a hamstring injury against the Jets, and guards Antoine Caldwell and Kasey Studdard both left the game with severe ankle injuries.

That could lead to protection problems against the Saints' attacking defense. New Orleans tallied six sacks and allowed only 10 first downs and 234 total yards against San Francisco last week, and Kubiak expects defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to call more blitzes in Houston.

"Gregg's aggressive," Kubiak said. "They're a very fast offensive football team and they're a very aggressive defensive football team, a lot of pressure. I think he's one of the best, he's been doing it for a long time and I've got a lot of respect for him. You better be on your toes when you play him all the time."

While Brees and Houston starter Matt Schaub will get increased reps in the second game, their backups will see more extended time to build on solid performances in the openers.

Chase Daniel, who played in 13 games but threw only three passes in 2010, went 13-for-21 for 129 yards and led three scoring drives against the 49ers. Matt Leinart, who re-signed with Houston after not taking a snap in 2010, was 8-for-14 for 78 yards and a touchdown pass in the win over the Jets.

Notes: The Texans raised $17,000 in an auction of memorabilia and other items during the Jets' game to benefit three Houston children who were orphaned and severely injured in a car accident in July. The money went toward the team's foundation, which then boosted the amount to $35,000 and donated it to a fund supporting the Berry family. Joshua and Robin Berry were killed in the crash in West Texas. Their sons, 8-year-old Aaron and 9-year-old Peter, were permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and their 6-year-old sister Willa suffered several broken bones.

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