HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans returned to work after their bye refreshed and eager to see if quarterback Ryan Mallett can help turn around the offense in his first NFL start on Sunday at Cleveland.
Coach Bill O'Brien benched Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Mallett before the break in an attempt to improve Houston's struggling offense. O'Brien, who first coached him when he was an assistant with the Patriots in 2011, can't wait to see the fourth-year player get a chance to start.
''I'm excited,'' O'Brien said. ''This is his opportunity to go out there and lead this team, and he's excited ... and we're looking forward to seeing what he can do.''
Because O'Brien made the move before giving the team off for the bye, Mallett chose to stay in Houston instead of getting away so he could get some extra work in.
''Worked out a little bit, but a lot of film study,'' Mallett said. ''Just trying to get ready for these guys. They've got a good team. They're 6-3 and we've got to execute to have a chance.''
Mallett saw very limited action in three seasons as Tom Brady's backup, and has thrown just four passes with one completion and an interception in his career. Now he'll face a Cleveland defense that is second in the NFL with 13 interceptions this season.
''They all have good ball skills back there,'' O'Brien said. ''It's a very challenging secondary to go against.''
The Texans are 28th in the league with 209.7 yards passing a game and Fitzpatrick has thrown eight interceptions this season. Mallett, who starred in college at Arkansas, said he's ready for the challenge of getting the unit back on track.
He's waited years for his shot, but was OK with waiting one more week because of the bye.
''It gives you a sense of calm,'' Mallett said of having two weeks to prepare for the Browns. ''You're not rushing. You've got time to thoroughly digest what they're doing.''
Center Chris Myers thinks the transition at quarterback will be relatively seamless because of the work Mallett has done in practice. That doesn't mean he thinks things will be easy for him.
''He's got all of the tools,'' Myers said. ''He had a successful college career. For him to be able to come in here and prove himself it's going to be a big test, but we're all behind him 100 percent.''
For veteran receiver Andre Johnson, Sunday will be less about Mallett and more about how the rest of the offense performs. Johnson is second on the team with 563 yards receiving.
''Whoever is at quarterback, it doesn't matter,'' Johnson said. ''We all have to go out and do our jobs. It's not just going to be about him. It's going to be about all of us. All of us need to step our game up and go out and play the way we know how to play.''
He said there isn't any secret formula to getting things going. They all simply need to start making plays that they weren't making before the break when they fell to 4-5 on the season.
While the Texans' passing game has failed to find any consistency through the first nine games, they're having no such problems on the ground. Running back Arian Foster has bounced back from back surgery that cost him eight games last season to rank second in the NFL with 822 yards rushing.
His work has helped the Texans gain 137 yards a game this season, fourth-most in the league. But Foster injured his groin in Houston's loss to Philadelphia and is listed day to day this week.
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