Johnathan Joseph is proving that Houston made the right choice.
In need of a veteran cornerback, the Texans made a strong bid for the highly coveted Nnamdi Asomugha during the free agent frenzy, then backed off to sign the less-hyped Joseph to a five-year deal.
While Asomugha and the Eagles have floundered, Joseph is putting together a Pro Bowl-worthy season, shoring up the secondary for first-place Houston.
''For me, I just wanted to come in and be a part of the puzzle,'' said Joseph, who has four interceptions, 13 passes defended and a forced fumble this season. ''I didn't want to come in and be known as the top dog or anything like that. I just wanted to come and be under the radar, and the guy that's going to do my job, week in and week out.''
As an added bonus this week, Joseph can help with the scouting report.
Houston (9-3) plays at Cincinnati (7-5), where Joseph spent the first five seasons of his career. The Texans can clinch the AFC South with a victory and a Tennessee loss against New Orleans.
Neither the playoff implications nor the emotion of returning to the place where he began his career is fazing Joseph.
''For me, it'll just be like any other week, to be honest,'' he said.
Still, Joseph hopes he'll get an appreciative reception from Cincinnati fans when he walks back into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. His lasting memory from his time with the Bengals was helping the team restore some credibility on defense.
Cincinnati ranked 28th in defense in 2005, then drafted the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Joseph with the 24th overall pick in 2006. The unit gradually improved and in 2009 ranked fourth.
Joseph had a career-high six interceptions that season, and the Bengals landed a playoff berth.
''For me, that was special, turning around the way they were looked at defensively,'' he said.
Joseph has become a key component of an even more dramatic defensive reversal in Houston.
New coordinator Wade Phillips installed a 3-4 alignment, and the Texans have gone from last against the pass in 2010 (267.5 yards per game) to third (183.4 ypg) this year. Houston has 17 interceptions this season - at least one in 10 consecutive games - after picking off only 13 passes all last season.
Joseph has specifically worked with Kareem Jackson, who became the lightning rod of criticism for the secondary's problems last season. Joseph has tried to set a high standard, not just for Jackson, but for every defensive back.
''I just wanted to come out and show those guys great practice habits, each and every day,'' Joseph said, ''ways to study and ways to be a professional and be held accountable for whatever it may be.
''I think Kareem's done a great job of that throughout the year. Each week, he still seems to get better.''
Jackson had one of his best days as a pro Sunday, intercepting a pass and breaking up a last-second, desperation throw to Julio Jones in the end zone to preserve Houston's 17-10 victory over Atlanta.
''I talked to him just about little things,'' Joseph said. ''As funny as it may sound, he tells me some different things that can help me, as well.''
And because Joseph still knows Cincinnati's defense well, he can also give a unique perspective to rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who made his first career start against Atlanta last week.
He'll chat with Yates sometime this week and offer some tips.
''I don't know exactly what they're doing,'' Joseph said. ''But when I have a chance to look at things on film, I will help T.J. in each and every way possible, to help him play better on Sunday.''
Notes: WR Andre Johnson sat out Wednesday's practice, and coach Gary Kubiak is uncertain of the star receiver's status for Sunday's game. Johnson hurt his left hamstring chasing down a deep pass from Yates in the third quarter against Atlanta. He was playing just his second game since returning from a more serious right hamstring injury that sidelined him for six weeks. ... Quarterback Jeff Garcia and punter Matt Turk practiced with the team Wednesday after signing contracts. The 41-year-old Garcia had individual workouts with the team after both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were injured. Garcia will be No. 3 on the depth chart, behind Yates and Jake Delhomme, who signed with the Texans last week. The 43-year-old Turk, who played for Houston from 2007-10, replaced Brett Hartmann, who tore a left knee ligament on Sunday.