The Texans beat Carolina 26-13 behind a dominant defensive effort Saturday night. The Panthers mustered only 137 yards and failed to gain a first down in the second half.
Trindon Holliday returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, rookie Randy Bullock kicked a long field goal and Houston's defense made eight sacks.
But the overall performance was far from flawless -- Matt Schaub threw an interception, Arian Foster fumbled, and the Texans sputtered in the red zone and were called for eight penalties.
"There was some ugly," Kubiak said Sunday. "The thing I worry about in the first game, I tell the guys all the time, `Hey, you're going to make mistakes, let `em go. But I want to see you play hard.' We gave great effort in the game, so I'm very pleased with that. There are a lot of things for us to move forward on."
Kubiak said nose tackle Shaun Cody may miss some time with a "disk issue" in his back. Cody received an epidural injection on Sunday, and he'll be evaluated again on Monday.
But Kubiak expects receiver Andre Johnson and linebacker Brian Cushing to play when the Texans (No. 6 in the AP Pro32) face San Francisco (No. 4) in their second preseason game on Saturday. Johnson strained his groin in the first week of training camp, and Cushing missed time last week with an illness.
Schaub and Foster only played the first quarter in Charlotte. Foster fumbled after gaining 11 yards on his only carry and Schaub was picked off on his sixth throw in his first game since fracturing his right foot last November.
Foster lost three fumbles in 2011, about the only stain on his second straight Pro Bowl season. Kubiak says Foster will get more carries against the 49ers.
"Arian knows he's got to hang onto the ball," Kubiak said. "I don't have to tell him that. I do tell him on a regular basis, but he knows that."
Inconsistent execution in the red zone, another issue last season, also emerged again.
The Texans ranked 23rd in red-zone efficiency in 2011, finishing with touchdowns on only 29 of 62 drives inside the opponents' 20-yard line (47 percent). Two Houston drives stalled inside the Carolina 5 in the first half, setting up field goals on Saturday, and the Panthers stopped another drive at the 9-yard line in the third quarter.
"I thought we had some opportunities to make some plays," Kubiak said. "The field gets smaller down there, you've got to make the little plays. It's something we've been working really hard on in practice. The key to us in the red zone is running the ball well. Overall, if we play better in the red zone, there are a lot more points."
Houston final broke through in the red zone when reserve running back Jonathan Grimes scored from the 3 in the third quarter. Grimes, a 5-foot-10, 209-pound undrafted rookie, rushed nine times for 37 yards.
The 5-5, 170-pound Holliday was another bright spot, returning six kicks (three kickoffs and three punts) for 182 total yards. Holliday spent the 2010 season on injured reserve with a left thumb injury, then played most of last season on the practice squad.
"It's a big step for him in the right direction," Kubiak said. "The biggest thing we're going to do is give him a chance to be our all-time returner."
A sixth-round draft pick out of LSU in 2010, Kubiak would like to see Holliday prove he could handle punt and kickoff returns full-time. Kubiak will keep Holliday out of the regular offense for now because he wants to watch rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin and others compete for the lower receiving spots on the depth chart.
Kubiak will also have to choose between kickers Shayne Graham and Bullock and both went 2 for 2 on field-goal tries in Carolina. Graham, a Pro Bowler in 2005, was good from 20 and 37 yards. Bullock, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, connected from 21 and 52 yards. Kubiak sent Bullock out to try the long one midway through the fourth quarter.
"I don't know that I'm kicking that field goal in a regular-season game, right there in that situation," Kubiak said. "But I wanted to give him a chance. He put it in the net from 52 or 53, so he's been very impressive. But Shayne's having a good camp, too, so it's going to be a very good competition."