Texans see similarities with Super Bowl champs

METAIRIE, LA -- The Texans went 9-7 last season; the Saints were 9-7 in 2008.

-- Houston's quarterback, Matt Schaub, led the NFL in passing, just as Drew Brees did for the Saints in 2008.

-- The Texans know they have to improve their ground game after finishing third-to-last in rushing, just as the Saints did when they had went from the NFL's fifth-worst rushing attack in 2008 to 10th in 2009.

But the Texans are not ready to say they are in the same stage of development that transformed the Saints from also-rans in 2008 to Super Bowl champions a year later. Houston plans to follow its own path.

"I don't think there's a certain blueprint that works," Houston middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "Every team does something different. Everyone has to find their own way and find out what works for them."

The two teams squared off for the third and final time at the Saints practice facility Thursday morning in preparation for Saturdays preseason game at the Louisiana Superdome.

"We're just trying to do what they did last year, be that last team standing," Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "We can't make it happen just by talking about it. We are going to have to go out and be very productive on the field."

The Saints have had an up-close look at the Texans for three consecutive years in inter-squad practices before their preseason games. Houston, which went 8-8 in 2008, has impressed New Orleans every time.

"The last couple of years, I've really seen they are a good team," New Orleans wide receiver Devery Henderson said. "It's maybe just one or two games here and there that maybe if they could have won, the outcome of their season would have been a whole lot different."

The Texans need to shore of their defense, which finished in the middle of the pack in almost every defensive statistical category last season. However, the Texans' offense is potent.

Schaub directed a prolific passing attack that averaged 290.9 yards. Wide receiver Andre Johnson had an NFL-high 1,569 yards on 101 catches.

"They definitely have the makings to be a great offensive team and a juggernaut in their conference," Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove said. "I'm not real familiar with their defense, but on the offensive side they have the makings."

For New Orleans, it is matter of maintaining rather than building, and coach Sean Payton liked what he saw from the practices with the Texans. Trying to avoid a Super Bowl letdown, the Saints have tried to keep training camp from coming monotonous.

"We benefited and they benefited from breaking the normal routine of training camp," Payton said. "It forces you to get out of your comfort zone."

Henderson said the Saints found a simple formula for success the Texans have to follow if they want to duplicate New Orleans turnaround.

"Last year it was an everyday thing," he said. "We were trying to get better every time we stepped on the field, whether it was practice, walkthrough or whatever, and it took us a long way. That's what every team should do."

Players were more testy at Thursday's practice than they were during the two Wednesday sessions. There were a few scuffles between the Texans offense and the Saints defense.

Tempers flared when safety Chip Vaughn pulled down running back Chris Henry by his dreadlocks in a no-tackling drill.

"They are here in New Orleans," Hargrove said. "This is our city, our facility, this is our practice field. We have a tempo we play at. When you come in here you have to either practice our way or go home."

Houston coach Gary Kubiak, looking for his first playoff berth in five years with the Texans, liked that tempo.

"You know it's the best competition that you could find right here working against the world champs," he said. "What more can you ask for?"

NOTES: The NFL upheld Thursday the four-game suspension for Houston linebacker Brian Cushing for testing positive for HGH. Cushing was the NFL defensive rookie of the year last season. Cushing, who is eligible to play in the preseason, sat out practice with what Kubiak said was a foot injury. ... Saints Pro Bowl right tackle Jon Stinchcomb missed practice to rest a minor shoulder injury, but Payton said he expected Stinchcomb to play Saturday. ... The demotion of Saints starting left guard Carl Nicks lasted one day. He was back with the first unit Thursday. ... Reggie Bush had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown for New Orleans. ... Johnson had little sympathy for Brown after he was pulled down by his hair. Said Johnson: When you have those dreads, that's why you see a lot of guys cut them short now. When they hang out the back of the helmet, a lot of guys tend to grab the hair from the back.

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