HOUSTON TEXANS (2-0)
at DENVER BRONCOS (1-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. EDT
Line: Houston -1½, Total: 44½
After a pair of easy wins, the Texans face their biggest challenge of the season when they visit the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
Houston is staking its claim to be the AFC’s best defense, but it will be in a chess match with Peyton Manning. While Manning’s arm strength isn’t back (leading to 3 INT last Monday in Atlanta), he’s still capable of manipulating defenses with the best of them. Denver nearly came back to beat the Falcons despite four early turnovers. Denver’s run defense will be in for a challenge against Houston’s elite running game. They dominateda good Jacksonville D for 216 rushing yards last week, on the road. Houston is averaging 39 minutes of possession per game, a potential advantage in keeping their defense fresh in Denver’s thin air.
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The Texans have outscored their first two opponents 57-17. Last week, they used a two-man rushing attack to pummel Jacksonville, as Arian Foster had 110 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and Ben Tate rushed for 74 yards and two scores on just 12 carries (6.2 YPC). Houston also had a solid performance from QB Matt Schaub who completed 26-of-35 throws for 195 yards and helped his team rack up a whopping 43:17 time of possession. Six different players each had at least three catches. In the teams’ most recent matchup in Denver two years ago Schaub had a big day with 310 passing yards (70% completions), 1 TD and 1 INT. TE Owen Daniels had eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown that day, and was targeted a team-high nine times in last week’s win in Jacksonville. Houston’s defense has been outstanding, posting league-best numbers in scoring defense (8.5 PPG), total defense (196 YPG) and passing defense (124 YPG). The Texans have forced five turnovers but have not committed a single one on offense. Two injuries that could affect this great defense are LB Brooks Reed (hip) and DE Antonio Smith (ankles), who are both listed as questionable. The good news is that LB Connor Barwin (elbow) has been upgraded to probable.
Manning has always loved facing Houston, winning 16 of 18 career meetings and completing 70.4% of his passes for 5,122 yards (285 YPG), 42 TD and just 8 INT. However, he has not faced this Texans defense since Wade Phillips took over and transformed them into one of the best stop-units in the NFL. Manning had his problems with turnovers last week as all three picks came in the game’s first eight minutes, but still finished 24-of-37 (65%) for 241 yards and 1 TD. He and Demaryius Thomas were on the same page all night as Thomas caught eight passes for 78 yards and 1 TD. Denver’s running game also improved greatly from Week 1, tallying 24 more yards on the same amount of carries. Willis McGahee ran for 113 yards and two scores against Atlanta. Defensively, the Broncos have been excellent in stopping the run so far, allowing a total of 142 yards on 54 carries (2.6 YPC). The passing defense has also been strong, yielding just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Denver could be without LB Von Miller, who is questionable with a hip injury, and two members of the secondary are also labeled as questionable, CB Chris Harris (ankle) and S Quinton Carter (knee).