HOUSTON -- Already riding a 12-game losing streak, the Texans have been forced to make changes in the starting lineup at quarterback and running back for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.
Matt Schaub, who threw four touchdown passes in the victory at Denver last season, is starting his first game since the Texans (2-12) lost 38-13 to St. Louis on Oct. 13. Before coach Gary Kubiak was fired, Schaub came off the bench two times when starter Case Keenum was ineffective.
Keenum, who has thrown an interception in five consecutive games, suffered ligament damage in his right thumb when he was sacked for the fourth and final time in last Sunday's 25-3 loss at Indianapolis. Winless in eight starts in his second season, Keenum had a splint on his thumb on Wednesday when he was unable to practice.
Interim coach Wade Phillips said Keenum will have to wear the splint the rest of the week and that he might be able to play in the last game at Tennessee. It's way too early to tell.
Starting against Denver and possibly Tennessee gives Schaub a chance to audition for a new team. He's expected to be waived in March and designated as a June 1 salary cap casualty, meaning he'll count $3.5 million against the 2014 cap.
It will be interesting to see how the fans react to Schaub. He has been booed at home this season when he has struggled, and fans cheered when he was injured.
"Our team's 100 percent behind him," Phillips said. "I know our real fans are going to be cheering for our team and also for him because he's had a rough year like all of us, but he's determined to come out and play well. We're going to support him."
Keenum's thumb injury might be fortunate for him. He's coming off his worst game in the 25-3 loss last week at Indianapolis - his eighth consecutive defeat as a starter.
Keenum was 18-for-34 passing for 168 yards. He threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes. He was sacked four times, including once for a safety. His rating was 42.3.
"He had a rough game overall," Phillips said. "Sometimes young quarterbacks have to hit rock bottom to bounce back up. Some of them don't bounce back up and don't end up good quarterbacks.
"He's a great kid. I think he takes the blame for everything, but we've got to help him. He saw the blitzes when they were coming, but seeing blitzes and getting rid of the football is different than just seeing them.
"That and reading coverages is not an easy process, especially for a young quarterback to know exactly where to go with even though he goes through it over and over in his meetings."
Meanwhile, running back Ben Tate was placed on injured reserve. Tate said he suffered a cracked rib - one of the four he cracked Oct. 20 in a loss at Kansas City. He played hurt, but doctors wouldn't allow him to play with the new injury.
"You hope they don't get it again," Phillips said. "We had it protected, certainly. Ben said had it been on the other side, he probably would have tried to shoot it up, (but now) I think it's time to make sure (to) worry about his health first.
"I've said all along I thought he was a really tough son of a gun. A lot of guys won't get shot up for anything. A cracked rib is a problem, but it's not something too serious as far as his overall health. But once you get it multiple times, I think you've got to shut him down."
Tate, who's in the last year of his contract, has likely played his last game with the Texans. He's expected to sign with a new team for a lot more than the Texans could pay him because they will have Arian Foster back as the starter next season.
Foster was placed on injured reserve after suffering a back injury against the Chiefs. He underwent surgery.
Tate will not require surgery.
Tate finished with 181 carries for 771 yards and four touchdowns this season. Foster had 121 carries for 542 yards and two touchdowns.
Dennis Johnson, an undrafted rookie free agent who was signed off Cleveland's practice squad after Foster was lost, will start against Denver. Johnson has 37 carries for 154 yards.
Veteran Deji Karim, who was signed off the street when Foster went down, will be the backup. The Texans signed free agent Jonathan Grimes as the third back.