|Broncos coach John Fox has a daunting challenge in trying to devise a game plan to contain the Texans. (US Presswire)|
Texans at Broncos -- Week 3
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 2:25 p.m. MT (CBS)
Spread: Texans by 2.
Forecast: Scattered clouds; projected kickoff temperature: 81.
2012 records: Broncos (1-1); Texans (2-0)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Dec, 26, 2010: Broncos 24, Texans 23; Dec. 13, 2007: Texans 31, Broncos 13. Series record: Broncos hold a 2-1 edge.
What matters: The last time the Broncos and Texans dueled, one team had just fired its head coach, the other appeared poised at the trigger, and both appeared to be rudderless ships making no apparent progress. In the 21 regular-season weeks since, much has changed for the Texans and Broncos, including 21 of the 44 starters in that 2010 game who are no longer with their respective clubs. The most crucial additions to each team since then are Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Texans DE J.J. Watt. If Watt is able to have his way with Manning as he did with Miami's Ryan Tannehill in Week 1 and Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert last week, the Broncos will be in trouble. But Manning has owned the Texans over the years; he's 16-2 against them.
Who matters: Manning's three interceptions on passes down the seam Monday night put him under scrutiny, but his 17-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas and an on-target pass to Eric Decker that sailed through the receivers' hands were actually longer passes than the interceptions were intended to be, so it's not as if Manning can't deliver passes of 35 yards through the air with zip and accuracy.
LB Keith Brooking started and played extensively as base package weakside linebacker in the 4-3 on Monday, and the Texans' run-first mentality means that the 15-year veteran should see his most extensive work since joining the Broncos in August. "He hadn't had a lot of padded exposure," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, alluding to all the full-pad practices and preseason games Brooking missed in August because of a strained hamstring. "He'll get a lot more this week."
DE Elvis Dumervil has gotten off to a quiet start and is still looking for his first sack of the season, while LB/DE Von Miller already has three sacks rushing from the opposite side. But Dumervil's sacks historically come in clusters -- he had 9.5 sacks over eight games last year and recorded at least a half-sack each week during that run. If the Texans pay too much attention to Miller, Dumervil should capitalize and break out of his sackless funk.
Key matchup: RT Orlando Franklin will have his hands full with Texans DE J.J. Watt, who has 6.5 sacks in his last four games dating back to the 2011 postseason, including three this season. Watt is also the only front-seven player in the league with more than three passes defensed -- he has five so far this season -- and causes problems whether he directly attacks the quarterback or not. Look for the Broncos to keep TE Joel Dreessen in to block and help Franklin attempt to contain Watt.
Injuries of note: RG Chris Kuper will miss a third consecutive game because of a fractured forearm suffered in practice Aug. 14 … CB Chris Harris has recovered from an ankle injury that sidelined him last Monday; he practiced Thursday and Friday and should play Sunday.
Inside stuff: S Rahim Moore returned to the starting lineup and has generally shown good range and coverage ability, but his proclivity for taking 15-yard penalties has become problematic. He's the only player in the AFC with two 15-yard infractions so far this season. Dating back to last season, he has one in each of the last four games in which he's taken defensive snaps. If Moore doesn't correct this problem, he might lose his job to Quinton Carter for a second consecutive season.
Connections: Dreessen was with the Texans from 2007-11 … OT Ryan Harris signed with the Texans after being released by the Broncos at the cut-down to 53 players Aug. 31 … Houston coach Gary Kubiak played nine seasons for the Broncos (1983-91) and spent 11 as their offensive coordinator (1995-2005) before joining the Texans; seven of his assistants are former Broncos staffers, including defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (Broncos defensive coordinator 1989-92 and head coach 1993-94) and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison (Broncos assistant 1995-2009).
Record watch: The next time Manning leads a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, he will tie Dan Marino for first all-time with 47.
Looking ahead: The final summit of the Broncos' mountainous three-week opening stretch is followed by a home game against the Raiders, which looks like a breather on the surface, but could be troublesome, given that Darren McFadden has averaged 127.0 yards in his last four games against Denver. A daunting two-game swing at New England and San Diego follows in which the Broncos will rack up 5,214 air miles hitting opposite corners of the lower 48 states while facing two teams against which they've gone 1-5 since 2010. Denver's ability to defend its home field is crucial to its playoff hopes; if the Broncos fall, a 2-4 record at their bye is a legitimate possibility.
Prediction: Texans 23, Broncos 20