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By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Through the first two weeks of this preseason, the Houston Texans' defense has shown no drop-off whatsoever after fielding one of the NFL's fiercest units on that side of the ball in 2011.
Wade Phillips' group may be facing its toughest task to date, however, when the Texans head to the Superdome for a showdown with Drew Brees and the high- powered New Orleans Saints.
In its first year under the command of Phillips, whose father (Bum) served as the Saints' head coach from 1981-85, the Houston defense yielded the second- fewest yards allowed in the NFL while ranking third overall against the pass, fourth versus the run and fourth in points surrendered. It's been more of the same for the Texans early on in Phillips' second year, with the team presently standing second in both total defense (208.0 ypg) and sacks (10) in preseason play.
Phillips' charges put forth another stifling effort in last Saturday's matchup with defending NFC West champion San Francisco, permitting a scant 267 total yards and limiting the 49ers to just a 3-of-13 success rate on third downs in a 17-9 Texans' victory.
Houston stood tall despite being without a pair of starters on the defensive line, end J.J. Watt (dislocated elbow) and nose tackle Shaun Cody (back strain). Neither will be in uniform as well for Saturday's challenge from a Saints squad that's expected to have Brees and the healthy members of the first-team offense out on the field for at least the entire first half.
Brees lit up the Texans for 370 yards and three touchdowns to lift New Orleans to a thrilling 40-33 victory over Houston at the Superdome during Week 3 of the 2011 regular season. The Texans allowed their highest point and total yardage (454) amounts of the year in that defeat.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was also on point in that game, amassing 373 yards and throwing for three scores in a losing cause. The trusty veteran was equally as good in last weekend's tune-up against the 49ers, completing 11- of-14 attempts for 128 yards and connecting with young wide receiver Lestar Jean for a nine-yard touchdown late in the first half.
The Texans' best receiver, Andre Johnson, also made an impact last week after being held out of the preseason opener with a groin strain. The five-time Pro Bowl selection hauled in a 43-yard deep strike from Schaub in the second quarter and had a six-yard catch earlier in the evening.
Brees was in usual form in New Orleans' most recent outing, with the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year hitting on 10-of-13 throws for 133 yards and a touchdown in the Saints' 27-24 loss to Jacksonville at Superdome. Backup Chase Daniel also delivered an extremely crisp effort, accumulating 185 yards and two scores on 16-of-21 passing.
New Orleans' defense didn't have as good a night, with Jacksonville quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Jordan Palmer combining for three touchdown passes and the Jaguars rushing for 170 yards. The Saints also lost three of their top four linebackers during the contest, with Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain all exiting with injuries.
Chamberlain, who was pushing veteran Scott Shanle for a starting role on the strong side, suffered a torn ACL and was placed on injured reserve Sunday. Hawthorne could miss the start of the regular season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, while middle linebacker Lofton will sit out Saturday's test with a high ankle sprain.
New Orleans did make a move towards bolstering depth in that area, acquiring veteran Barrett Ruud in a trade with Seattle on Tuesday.
Brees also won't have a few targets on hand against the Texans, with dynamic running back Darren Sproles still sidelined with a minor knee injury and wide receivers Adrian Arrington (knee surgery) and Nick Toon (foot) out for another week. Arrington and Toon were to battle Courtney Roby and Joseph Morgan to be the team's No. 4 receiver in camp, with Morgan aiding his cause in the Jacksonville game by catching a 53-yard touchdown pass from Daniel and ending with a team-high 68 yards on three grabs.
The Saints were also in the news with Wednesday's announcement that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will serve as the club's interim head coach for the first six games of the upcoming regular season. Kromer will be filling in for Joe Vitt, who'll take over for the suspended Sean Payton for the remainder of the year but was handed a punishment of his own following the NFL's investigation of New Orleans' infamous bounty program.
Houston and New Orleans will be facing off in the preseason for the fifth straight year and sixth time overall. The Texans took a 3-2 advantage in the series and halted a two-game losing streak in the set by virtue of last summer's 27-14 triumph at Reliant Stadium.
08/23 14:26:33 ET
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