After their sixth preseason game, the Texans will face their first test this Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. In previous seasons a 2-0 start would be celebrated as a Super Bowl victory for some Texans fans, but the expectations this year are much higher. This off-season has been filled with hype and hope that the Texans could take the step from pretty good to great and make a deep playoff run. They want to believe but there is still some nagging doubt in the back of the mind of many fans. If they lose, we'll hear the 'same ole Texans' phone calls on sports talk radio on Monday; guaranteed. Some fans just can't shake the image of the Texans being a team that always blows it and never delivers. If they beat the Broncos on Sunday, that image will start to change. It may only be week three, but a lot is riding on this game.
Texans Offense vs. Broncos Defense:
The Broncos defense is built a bit like the old Colts defenses that Manning played with while in Indianapolis. They're built more on speed than strength and are at their best rushing the passer over trying to stuff the run. The Colts defenses were always weak against the run, but if Manning put up 17 quick points and the opposing offense could no longer run the ball, then Freeney and Mathis could pin their ears back and cause havoc. Factor in crowd noise making it hard for opposing offensive tackles to hear the snap count and it can cause the tackles to get out of their stance late giving the pass rusher a head start to the quarterback. I'm not worried about Duane Brown, he's a veteran and capable of holding his own against either Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller, but it'll be right tackle Derek Newton's first start in a hostile environment (the Jaguars stadium is a library compared to Mile High). They'll need to give him help on obvious pass downs with a back or tight end staying in to block on his side.
The Texans should also work in a few draws and screen plays early on to put that in the Broncos mind and hopefully slow down their aggressiveness. All this being said, the most effective defense against their pass rush is a great running game. The Texans should look to establish the run early against a Broncos rush defense that gave up 126 rushing yards per game last year which ranked 22nd in the league, including 146.6 rushing yards allowed per game over their final six games. I'd like to see the Texans run right at the undersized Dumervil and Miller and hopefully tire them out. The Texans do a great job of making their pass plays look like their run plays before the snap which is a part of why their play-action passing game is so deadly and should slow down the Broncos pass rush, if they're having to think and read the play instead of pinning their ears back.
Texans Defense vs. Broncos Offense:
Peyton Manning looked great against the Steelers leading many to believe that he was back to the Manning of old. However, on Monday the Falcons disguised their defensive looks, confused Manning, and forced him into three interceptions. Which Manning will the Texans see this Sunday? Hard to tell, but I'd guess something in between. His good performance in week one came against a defense with strong name recognition, but the Steelers were missing a couple of starters and even the guys who made it on the field are a step or two slower than they were in years past. On Monday he saw an improved Falcons defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan, but they were missing their best cornerback (Brent Grimes) off a team that finished 20th in the league last season both in passing yards allowed and passing touchdowns allowed. My point, neither defense he's faced so far is as good as the Texans defense he'll face this week. His wide receiver group isn't bad, but their not close to the level that he had in Indianapolis and the Texans secondary can handle them.
The Texans ranked third in passing yards allowed last season and are currently ranked first for this season. Manning has had a lot of success against the Texans in the past, but he's never faced a Texans defense with Wade Phillips as the coordinator and guys like J.J. Watt, Johnathan Joseph, or Brooks Reed on the field. Manning has struggled against 3-4 defenses like the Texans in the past including a game against the Chargers in 2005 when he completed just 57% of his passes and threw one touchdown and two interceptions; his last game against a Wade Phillips coached team.
The Texans Will Win If...
1. The Texans pass rush dominates the Broncos beat up offensive line
2. The Texans run game is effective and averaging nearly five yards a carry
3. They win the turnover battle
The Broncos Will Win If...
1. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller live in the Texans backfield all game long
2. Peyton Manning picks on Kareem Jackson
3. They're able to run it effectively, stay on schedule, and keep Manning out of 3rd & long
Follow me on Twitter: @sackedbybmac
For more on the Texans, check out the Battle Red Blog!