The Texans scored on their opening drive nine times in 2011. And whether it was the starters or backups running the offense, they also scored on their first series in each of their four preseason games.
Houston plays Miami on Sunday in the regular-season opener. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison says the Texans want to set a quick pace against every opponent and force defenses to adjust from there.
"We want to get up and down, get ready to go and really set the tempo of the game," Dennison said. "Early on it's tempo, it's `set the pace."'
The Texans scored on their first series seven times last season with Matt Schaub playing quarterback, and won five of those games. Schaub was lost for the season with a broken foot in Week 10, and Houston scored on its opening possession only two more times the rest of the year, losing both games.
Schaub, receiver Andre Johnson and Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster are all back healthy after playing together only twice all of last season. Houston scored on its first drive in both of those games, including a 23-13 win at Miami in Week 2.
Coaches map out a certain number of plays to run early in each game, and Schaub said all the players have to do is execute them. Houston began last season's 17-10 win over Pittsburgh with a 19-play drive that chewed almost 11 minutes off the clock.
"(It's) just being on top of the script that we have laid out at the beginning of games," he said. "All the guys know what their assignments are, there are certain adjustments to the defensive looks, keep our third downs manageable and then converting those, and then getting in the red zone and being able to score points off that. That really sets the tone for the game, especially when you can have a long nine- or 10-play drive to start the game off, you really set the tempo."
Houston scored eight touchdowns on its nine opening drives last season.
"(It's) just coming out with the right mentality, getting our run game established and when we got that, getting big, explosive plays downfield," left tackle Duane Brown said. "I think we just came out with a certain energy level and a certain tempo. That's how we try to start off every game right. If you come out with a lull, you could be in for a long first quarter or first half."
The Texans will break in two new starters on the right side of the line on Sunday. Antoine Caldwell moves into right guard to replace Mike Brisiel, who left in free agency. Derek Newton is the new starting right tackle after beating out Rashad Butler, who is out for the season with torn right triceps. Newton, a seventh-round pick in 2011, will make his first career start in place of Eric Winston, who signed with Kansas City in the offseason.
The new faces don't change the same mindset at the start of games.
"It's just about executing," Brown said. "You're not going to show up out there and have a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns. You've got to go out and execute the plays that they called and you've got to sit `em down up front, and the quarterback, running backs and receivers have got to do their thing."
NOTES: Coach Gary Kubiak said NT Shaun Cody (sore back) practiced Wednesday and should be ready for Sunday's opener. But Kubiak said Cody will split time with Earl Mitchell, who impressed coaches in training camp. ... Kubiak hinted that DE J.J. Watt could be on a play count as he continues to recover from a dislocated left elbow suffered early in training camp.