Consult most any current power ranking and you’ll likely find the Houston Texans camped out in the top five. Not bad considering two years ago, the Texans were embarking on yet another season of playing fairly average football that didn’t produce any postseason results.
While Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and the Wade Phillips-led defense certainly deserve credit and respect, let’s not forget it took a certain quarterback missing a season for the Texans to finally breach the playoff barrier. The Texans, while enduring injuries to key personnel, only won the AFC South when the Indianapolis Colts disintegrated, the Jacksonville Jaguars named Blaine Gabbert a starter, and the Tennessee Titans just hit it down the middle.
Two games into their 2012 campaign the Houston Texans have looked impressive against the likes of Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins, and Gabbert’s Jags. In both games the Texans have won by 20. This apparently makes you one of the best five teams in football right now.
Barring a blowout by either team, this game likely won’t tell us as much about Denver as it does about Houston. Here are my thoughts heading in:
If Denver Wins…this Broncos team really has the tools to make some noise in the AFC this year, and the Texans will likely crumble against an elite quarterback come playoff time.
If Houston Wins…the Texans still look like a contender, Denver is still gelling.
In the grand scheme of the season this isn’t a must win for either side. However, given the Broncos difficult schedule, the easiest path to the playoffs for Denver is winning at home, and winning in the division. The Texans present an opportunity for a home win.
All that said, here’s the brief what to watch for:
When Houston has the ball:
The Broncos defense will likely hinge upon the play of its front seven. The Broncos have looked strong against the run in the previous two weeks in shutting down running games usually regarded as solid. Foster will be the team’s first test against an “elite” back, and Ben Tate won’t give the interior defense much of a break.
The Texans’ zone blocking scheme was forged in Denver, and is still producing results. Denver’s speed rush on the ends will have to play smart to keep Houston from simply moving the effective Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to areas where they can’t influence plays.
When Denver has the ball:
A week after one of Peyton Manning’s more disappointing starts, he and the Denver offense get an even higher ranked defense. It will be interesting to see how much the Texans utilize the nebulous pre-snap box strategy the Atlanta Falcons deployed. If bunch formations and pre-snap movement on the defense is incorporated, it will be extremely interesting to see how much it will affect Manning and Mike McCoy. The Broncos offensive coordinator illustrated his adaptability last season and combined with Manning’s knowledge of basically anything that has ever happened in football, Denver’s response to the ultra-disguised defense could be interesting to see.
If there’s one thing the Broncos have yet to unleash, it’s an early flurry. Manning and the offense have been at their best in the no-huddle, yet Denver has tried to alter its tempo early in the first two games. Several no-huddle drives by the Broncos offense to begin the game may be an worthwhile change-up, and if trends remain, allow the Denver defense to do what it was really built to do: Play with a lead.
Denver 31, Houston 28
The one thing no one will readily say in Dove Valley was that Manning totally cost Denver the game last week (to be fair…he probably would’ve allowed the team to come back and win it too). At home, with lessons learned, the Texans and all the citizens of Power Rankington are reminded that Houston is a solid team, but still can’t be rolled into the elite.