(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - Despite gaining plenty of yards, Houston's offense has had trouble finishing drives in the past few quarters.
Coach Gary Kubiak knows a big part of the problem is the group's inability to convert third downs and he's looking for ways to fix the problem.
"It's always a focus," he said. "If you're making third downs, you're staying on the field. You've got possession time. You're helping your defense, all those things. We've been pretty good at it for about nine weeks ... and we have not been very good at that the last three or four weeks. You've got to make those plays."
The Texans converted just four of 14 third down tries in Monday night's 42-14 loss to the Patriots. But it wasn't the first time they'd struggled in that area.
They converted just four of 17 third down chances a week earlier, but used a dominant defensive performance to get a 24-10 win over Tennessee.
Quarterback Matt Schaub said better execution will help them get back on track when they host the Colts on Sunday with the AFC South title on the line.
"We've got to be on top of every situation ... and be able to make adjustments in the game," Schaub said. "We just need to handle those situations because at such critical points in the game we have to be at our best."
Left tackle Duane Brown believes some of the trouble on third down comes from inconsistency in the running game.
"We left a lot of yards out there Monday night," he said. "We had some big runs that broke, but in this league you have to be consistent. You can't have a 15-yard run and then two negative plays. You have to be able to get five here and eight there ... to set up the rest of your offense."
Kubiak has been disappointed in his running game recently. He attributes some of the struggles to tackle Derek Newton and tight end Garrett Graham missing time recently with injuries. But that certainly isn't the only problem.
"It's not good enough right now across the board," he said. "It's something we got to get back to, something we got to do better. It's everybody, but it has not been good enough."
Kubiak was encouraged by the improvement of running back Ben Tate on Monday night in his second game back after missing four games with a hamstring injury.
Houston used him as a complement to Arian Foster before his injury, and Justin Forsett has filled that role recently. But Kubiak said Tate could return to being Houston's second back soon if his conditioning improves.
"He has taken steps forward the last two weeks and I would say he's very close to being ready to go back in there for Arian and maybe carry the ball 15 times, that type of thing," Kubiak said. "We'll see how he works this week, but he's taken positive steps."
Although they've had trouble in a couple of areas recently, the Texans are still averaging the sixth-most yards in the NFL (384.5) and are fourth in scoring (28.1).
But they know that they'll have to get these problems cleared up if they hope to finish out the regular season strong and make a push in the playoffs.
Receiver Andre Johnson thinks Monday's loss will help them clean things up and be better in the future. He isn't concerned about the defeat lingering into this week's game.
"I think you learn from any loss that you have," he said. "I'm sure what happened Monday night there is a lot to learn from. I'm not worried. I'm fine. I can't speak for everybody else. You'll have to ask them. I'll be ready to go on Sunday. That's pretty much it."
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