With Matt Schaub out for the season, it will likely fall on Matt Leinart to lead the Houston Texans to their first playoff berth. Leinart might have some help in his first start for the team, as All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson is expected to return from injury for Sunday's road meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Leinart didn't take a snap in 2010 after signing with Houston and hasn't started consecutive games since 2007 while with Arizona, which drafted him No. 10 overall the previous year. That will likely change for the former Heisman Trophy winner after Schaub was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and the Texans signed Kellen Clemens.
Leinart takes over with Houston (7-3) leading the AFC South by two games over Tennessee and seeking the first five-game win streak in team history. Houston and its new quarterback will likely get some help in that quest with Johnson expected to play for the first time since Oct. 2. Johnson, who missed the past six games because of an injured hamstring, had nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in his previous matchup with Jacksonville last November. Houston, seeking its first three-game win streak in this series and first victory in Jacksonville since 2006, will face a Jaguars team that's coming off a bitter defeat. Instead of handing the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars chose to let rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert try two passes from the 1-yard line in the final seconds of a 14-10 loss in Cleveland last Sunday. They also let 28 seconds elapse after Jones-Drew picked up a first down inside the 5-yard line on that same drive.
Gabbert topped 200 yards for the second time last week but didn't fare nearly as well last month in Houston. He connected on a career-worst 33.3 percent of his passes (10 of 30) for 97 yards and was picked off twice. Gabbert might have another tough game this weekend, as the Texans are giving up a league-low 269.7 yards per game and are second in the NFL with averages of 16.6 points and 178.4 passing yards allowed. In addition to its strong performance against Gabbert, Houston held Jones-Drew - the NFL's second-leading rusher with 941 yards - to a season-low 63 on 18 carries.
Jones-Drew averaged 98.3 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns while leading Jacksonville to three straight victories over the Texans before the consecutive losses in the series. Foster, averaging a league-best 148.1 yards from scrimmage, has run for 292 yards and scored three TDs in those back-to-back wins for Houston. However, he was held to 56 yards on 15 carries during the previous visit to Jacksonville.
With Leinart replacing the injured Schaub, don't expect the Texans to throw more than they have to. Gary Kubiak is going to call safe passes and rely heavily on the NFL's second-ranked running game. The Texans average 158.1 yards a game. Foster should touch the ball 25 times as a runner and receiver. Ben Tate will come off the bench and get in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 carries if all goes according to plan. Kubiak wants Leinart to manage the game and protect the ball. Throw it away or take the sack rather than risk an interception.