The expectations for the Texans were much higher this off-season than at any time in their history with many fans and media members picking the Texans to reach and in some cases win the Super Bowl. The opening two games on their schedule were pretty soft and didn't present a challenge, so the questions we had on the Texans hadn't been answered yet. After their sixth preseason game last week, they finally faced an opponent thought of as a playoff team that could provide them with the test they needed; they passed that test. The final score made the game look closer than it actually was, with a few mistakes late including a fumble from Ben Tate. Silver lining, those mistakes should provide Kubiak with issues to get on the team about and keep them from getting too high after a huge win. At the time of the fumble, the Texans led 31-11 with just over ten minutes left in the fourth quarter with a first down on the Broncos side of the field. Had he not fumbled, I believe it's safe to assume that they would have run off another two to three minutes off the clock and scored at least three points giving the Texans a 23 point lead and preventing any late game scare from Denver.
This grade would have been an A+ but their two turnovers, especially the fumble from Tate, bring it down a notch. Like I've talked about many times before, the Texans have the best play-action pass game in the league and it caused the Broncos big problems. The Broncos defense got fooled by not just the fake to the running back, but the Texans ran underneath crossing routes that the safety jumped down to cover, leaving Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter wide open for long touchdowns. Their play-action pass game also helped out the offensive line which struggled yesterday when Schaub had a straight drop back. The threat of Arian Foster, especially when he's running it well, forced Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to pause momentarily on the fake and gave Schaub that extra second to find an open target.
Going forward expect to see less of Antoine Caldwell and Derek Newton on the right side of the offensive line. Rookie Ben Jones started rotating in at right guard last week for Caldwell and did so again this week. Just three weeks after signing with the Texans, veteran Ryan Harris played several series at right tackle yesterday; not an encouraging sign for the development or performance of Newton. I think Newton can get the job done in the run game, but he's had a rough start in pass protection; as we saw with the safety on their first play of the game.
For the first time this season Arian Foster averaged over four yards a carry and the Texans averaged 4.5 overall as a team. The Texans were already 2-0 with Foster struggling a bit, good to see him turn it around in time for the bigger games during the tougher part of their schedule.
Most impressive moment of the game was their 14 play, 97 yard touchdown drive that took up over seven minutes worth of game time; those are the types of drives that break the opponents back and win games.
Much like the offense, this grade was an A+ until the final quarter. The fumble from Ben Tate deserves most of the blame for the late game scare, but the level of play from the defense fell off on the Broncos two touchdown drives. The Texans were very aggressive with tight coverage in the secondary and frequent blitzes during the first three quarters but seemed to go with a more vanilla defense in the 4th quarter. I get the idea, they want to play back a bit more, keep everything in front of them and make the Broncos burn clock, but it's frustrating to see them change from a strategy that had dominated the Broncos. For the game the Broncos averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and Manning finished the game having completed just 50 percent of his passes; his lowest number since the 2009 season. If you didn't watch the game, Manning's numbers besides the completion percentage actually look good with a season high 330 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions, but those numbers are deceptive. Manning's completion percentage was under 50 percent for the bulk of the game and three Texan defensive backs (Glover Quin, Johnathan Joseph, and Brice McCain) each dropped passes from Manning that hit them right in the hands and should have been easy interceptions. While I certainly wasn't thinking this at the time, the two touchdowns scored late could provide Wade Phillips with a good coaching moment; gives him a chance to get on them about something and hopefully keep them from getting a big head after another good performance.
On an individual level, I think we should vote J.J. Watt into the Pro Bowl right now; why wait? Currently Watt has 5.5 sacks (equaling his total from last season) which puts him on pace for 29 sacks which would smash the single-season NFL record. I point that out not because I believe he'll actually break the record (I don't) but to point out the ridiculously high level that he's playing at right now. I liked Watt coming out of college and expected him to be a good fit as a 3-4 end with his strong play against the run, but I don't think anyone thought he'd be this good of a pass rusher. He'll likely level out and finish the season at about 12 sacks, which would mean his sack rate drastically drops off, but that's still an incredible number from a 3-4 defensive end. A player in his second year in the league shouldn't be playing at this level.
Special Teams: A
Kicking game was solid once again. Shayne Graham was perfect on his kicks Sunday (41 yard FG, 4/4 XP) and punter Donnie Jones averaged 54.2 yards per punt. Trindon Holliday didn't get a chance to return any kickoffs which isn't surprising given the strong leg of the Broncos kicker and the thin air at Mile High Stadium. Given Holliday's struggles last week, this might have been a good thing.
A very impressive win. They showed great skill when building the big lead, good toughness by getting up from the big hits, and great poise by making the plays at the end to seal the victory. If the Texans play their 'A' game the next two weeks against the Titans and Jets, they'll be 5-0 heading into the huge Sunday night game at home against the Green Bay Packers.
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