ALWAYS TOUGH

The Houston Texans won their last four games of last season to finish with the best record in franchise history. The Colts visit Houston Sunday in the 2010 regular-season opener.

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Playing in Houston Always Difficult, Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning Says

INDIANAPOLIS – As Peyton Manning sees it, there are few unknowns.

And there are just as few weaknesses.

Manning, entering his 13th season as the Colts' quarterback, has been playing the Houston Texans twice a year for eight of those seasons, and considering the recent history of the series he figures he knows essentially what to expect from the Colts' trip to Houston this week.

The Texans will be good offensively and defensively. The game has a very good chance to be close.

And the Texans will be ready. Very, very ready.

"They are an excellent team and always tough when you play down there in Houston," Manning said this week as the Colts (16-3 overall last season) prepared to play the Texans (9-7) in the 2010 regular-season opener at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.

"That's the challenge, and we know it."

The Colts, winners of six of the last seven AFC South titles, have a 15-1 all-time record against Houston, with the Texans' victory in the series coming in December 2006.

That was Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak's first season with the team, and since then, a franchise that began playing in 2002 – the first year of the AFC South – has shown steady improvement. They went 9-7 last season, winning their last four games to finish with their first winning record in franchise history.

Optimism is high in Houston, with Texans Owner Bob McNair saying this week this year's team had a chance to be the best in the history of the franchise.

"I feel good about our team," Kubiak said this week. "I feel real good about our group. I think we've had a good camp. We're better with some new faces."

The Texans will be without second-year outside linebacker Brian Cushing, the 2009 Associated Press Rookie of the Year who is serving a four-game, NFL-mandated suspension. Owen Daniels, the Texans' Pro Bowl tight end who missed the last two months of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is expected to play at least 20 play in his first game since his injury.

"We're missing Brian," Kubiak said. "We've got to overcome that, but I've got a lot of confidence in the group we've got. The key for us is to play our football and not get consumed with who we are playing, but play the way that we know how to play to be successful."

Veteran Xavier Abidi, who missed the first three preseason games with a groin injury, is expected to start in place of Cushing.

"He (Cushing) played all the preseason, so you really haven't seen much film without him in there," Manning said. "I guess it will be different for them, but it will be different for us, as well, because he played all preseason as if he were going to be starting game one. We'll see what the adjustment is."

The Texans traditionally have played the Colts tough in Houston, not only winning there in 2006, but taking 17-point leads in each of the last two Colts-Texans games there. Houston led 27-10 in 2008 before Indianapolis scored three touchdowns in the final 4:04, and last season, the Texans took an early 17-0 lead before the Colts rallied for a 35-27 victory.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing yards last season, playing 16 games and completing 396 of 583 passes for 4,770 yards and 29 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. He has completed 90 of 118 passes in three games against Indianapolis for 831 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions.

Andre Johnson, the Texans' Pro Bowl wide receiver, caught 101 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He has led the NFL in receiving yards each of the last two seasons, the only player other than Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice to do so.

"We know the weapons they have," Colts safety Melvin Bullitt said. "They have an elite quarterback and probably the best receiver in the game. We really have to step up. We have to shut down that aspect of the game. As a defense, if we can stop the run and make them play into our strength . . . If we can make them do that, we feel like we'll be all right."

Said Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett, "They're very similar to what we have here. They have a solid running back and some pretty steady receivers and a quarterback who can sling the ball around. It's going to be a test. Last year, the second game was pretty much a dogfight until the second half when we got some turnovers. This is a team where you really want to get some turnovers, prevent them from scoring, and get our offense the ball as many times as possible."

The Texans also made a dramatic defensive improvement last season. After allowing 436.7 yards and 28.7 points per game in the first three weeks of the season, they allowed 299.1 yards over the final 13 games. The 13-week total ranked fourth in the NFL, and after allowing 205.0 yards a game rushing through the first three games, they limited opponents to 84.3 yards rushing a game thereafter.

"Their offense really finished with a bang last year, so you're going to have to score some points on their defense, which is tough now because they don't give up many big plays," Manning said. "They are very sound in what they do, and they make you earn everything that you get. That will be the challenge."

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