SEATTLE—When the Houston Texans host the Seattle Seahawks for the first time this weekend, they'll be meeting a group that looks very much like them.
These teams enter Sunday's game with 5-7 records and similar disappointment at being all but out of the playoff hunt with four games to go. They each need a victory to extend their chance of finishing with a winning record, and they'll both have to do it behind a beat-up quarterback.
"You just have to go out and try to win these four games we have left," Houston's Andre Johnson said. "I think that's the biggest thing. We can't worry about playoffs or anything like that. You just have to be focused on the task at hand and that's the only way that you'll find a way to get through it."
The Texans are in better shape at quarterback with Matt Schaub fully participating in practice this week and ready to go despite dislocating his non-throwing shoulder in last week's loss to Jacksonville. He'll wear a harness to steady the injured left shoulder and help guard against another dislocation.
Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck missed practice time this week because of a sore right throwing shoulder, but coach Jim Mora has said he's probable to start against Houston. He took a hard hit on a scramble late in the Seahawks' 20-17 win over San Francisco last week, but was able to finish the game.
Problems at quarterback are bad news for these two pass-heavy teams. Both rank near the bottom of the league in yards rushing and Houston's woes in that area could get worse this week with the loss of Steve Slaton.
Slaton was placed on injured reserve with a nerve problem in his neck on Wednesday and the Texans will likely start Chris Brown in his place. Brown is averaging 3.5 yards a carry, but his season has been more memorable because of two gaffes that contributed to Texans losses. The last one came on an ill-advised halfback pass that was intercepted near the end zone in a 23-18 loss to the Jaguars last week.
The Seahawks have used both Julius Jones and Justin Forsett and both have had big games this season, but neither player has been able to solidify Seattle's rushing threat.
"It is frustrating," Mora said. "It's something we're working hard on. It's a new system for these guys and we had a bunch of different lineups up front early in the season. So it's been hard for us to get consistency. As of the last few weeks, we're actually running the ball a little bit better, so we've got to continue to make improvements there."
The Seahawks come to Houston with two straight wins and are looking to build on that success. Houston hopes to break out of four-game losing streak.
"Obviously nobody's real upbeat right now, when you go through what we've gone through the last month," coach Gary Kubiak said. "The only thing that makes things better is winning football games, so that's what we got to prepare to do."
A bright spot in the struggles of these teams this season has been the stellar play of their rookie linebackers. Houston's Brian Cushing leads the team and all rookies with 102 tackles and has three interceptions. Seattle's Aaron Curry has 56 tackles and two sacks. Curry was chosen fourth overall, while Cushing was taken 15th.
Mora raved about Curry and said he's helped in Seattle's success in the last two games.
"He's big. He's strong. He's fast. He's quick. He's explosive," Mora said. "He can overpower guys in pass rush if you get him on a back. He can cover most tight ends because of his speed. He continues to get better every week. It's tough being a rookie linebacker in this league ... there's a process you have to go through. He's making his way through it just fine."
Kubiak was impressed with Curry when he met him at the combine, but general manager Rick Smith quickly reminded him there was no way he'd still be available when Houston picked.
Curry has dealt with the fatigue that comes with the length of an NFL schedule as compared to the demands of a college season.
"A few weeks back, they claimed that I had hit the wall when I wasn't on the up - I was more on the down or just too leveled out," he said. "So, there have been some rough times in my season, like any other rookie. We've all had rough times in our seasons, and the key is just to figure out how to bounce back from it and really bust through the wall and just get better."
Cushing has avoided the rookie wall so far, but Kubiak said that could have something to do with his sitting out of practice quite a bit over the last month with a sore foot.
Cushing doesn't feel like he's competing with Curry in this game, but will think about the fact the Seahawk was the first linebacker taken in the draft.
"That's something that is definitely in the back of my mind," he said. "I obviously know that. My main goal is to go out and perform as well as I can and help the team as best I can."