September 10, 2014

The Houston Texans used a strong defensive effort to snap a 14-game losing streak in the opener, but the victory cost them the top overall draft pick for at least a quarter of the season.

Even without Jadeveon Clowney, they could be poised for another stingy performance facing the Oakland Raiders.

Coach Bill O'Brien believes former first-round selection Whitney Mercilus can continue to fill in at a high level as the Texans look to end a seven-game road losing streak Sunday against the offensively challenged Raiders.

Houston (1-0) reached half of its win total from 2013 last Sunday, sacking Robert Griffin III three times, recovering two second-half fumbles and holding Washington scoreless over the final 39 minutes in a 17-6 victory.

Clowney had one tackle for a loss before going down late in the second quarter when he jumped up to try and bat down a pass. He's sidelined four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Monday.

"That's just something you don't want to happen as a rookie, as anybody really," safety D.J. Swearinger said. "But as a rookie coming in having a lot of the hype that he has, that's something he doesn't want to happen. I feel his frustration."

He'll be replaced by Mercilus, the 26th pick in the 2012 draft, who started every game last season and had 47 tackles with seven sacks but lost his starting linebacker job to Clowney. O'Brien was impressed with Mercilus' play after he took over Sunday.

"I think he's learning the scheme," the first-year coach said. "It's different than what he played in the previous scheme. It's not the easiest thing to learn right away for some players. He's improved the last two weeks."

Houston also remains in capable hands with J.J. Watt, who dominated the Redskins just five days after landing a new $100 million contract that included $51.8 million guaranteed. The star defensive end had one sack, two tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, one blocked extra point and one fumble recovery.

"The goal is always to be underpaid," he said. "You never want to be that guy that people say, 'He got money and shut down.' So I want to go out there every single day ... and prove that I'm worth it."

Watt tormented the Raiders with two sacks, two tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in a 28-23 home loss Nov. 17 that was part of the Texans' 14-game collapse following a 2-0 start.

The Raiders dropped their final six games after that matchup, and the outlook this season doesn't appear much brighter after a 19-14 road loss to the Jets last Sunday. Despite new starters at running back and quarterback after failing to crack 300 yards in seven games in 2013, Oakland was held to 158 last weekend with 25 yards on 15 carries and just 72 passing until scoring on its final drive.

A revamped offensive line gave few holes to Maurice Jones-Drew (nine rushes, 11 yards) and forced rookie Derek Carr, who beat out former Texan Matt Schaub in the preseason, to get rid of the ball quickly. Carr was 20 of 32 for 151 yards with two touchdowns, though he was sacked twice and only three of his completions traveled more than 10 yards downfield.

A new-look defensive front allowed the Jets to rush for 212 yards in Oakland's seventh straight defeat - its longest slide since dropping 11 in a row between 2006-07.

"I felt like, and still feel like, the line of scrimmage can be a plus for us," coach Dennis Allen said. "It obviously wasn't in that game and we've got to be better in that area."

Allen's club is likely to get a healthy dose of Arian Foster, who ran for 103 yards on 27 carries last Sunday following offseason back surgery. The three-time All-Pro missed last year's meeting with the injury but ran for 133 yards in a 31-24 win in Houston's last game at Oakland in 2010.

Andre Johnson burned the Raiders secondary for 116 yards on 10 catches in 2013, and he caught six passes for 93 yards from new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the opener. In his last trip to Oakland, Fitzpatrick completed 30 of 42 attempts for 320 yards and two touchdowns to lead Tennessee to a 23-19 win Nov. 24.

The Texans, trying to snap their worst skid on the road since 2006-07, have won three of four all-time meetings in Oakland. The Raiders lost their final four games at the Coliseum last year by an average of 19.5 points.

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