This matchup will probably go down as the best game of the week. Both squads are loaded with talent and plan on making a deep playoff run. Plenty of pundits have the Texans winning the Super Bowl this season. Rumblings of the Broncos having a shot at the Lombardi Trophy began to come to fruition after they took care of the Steelers easily in week 1. That lustre may have been lost a bit after struggling in Atlanta. Struggling is an understatement as far as Peyton Manning’s performance is concerned. Manning threw three first quarter interceptions, including a costly one to open the game that gave the Falcons starting field position at the 1-yard line. The Broncos will be able to operate in the friendly confines of Mile High Stadium this time around. Not in front of a boisterous Falcons crowd in Matt Ryan’s palace where he has only lost four times in his career. The Texans haven’t had to flex their muscles to an extent yet this season. Wins over the Dolphins and Jaguars won’t exactly scare anyone off, so week 3 provides their first real test. A test that will provide plenty of fodder for radio shows this week in terms of if the Texans are for real.
The Texans are stacked on both sides of the ball. The most impressive thing about them is how this defense has been transformed in such a short period. Two seasons ago they were dead last, last season they were a top-3 defense. Former Cowboys head coach, Wade Philips, has turned it around into one of the most feared in the NFL. In 2011 the Texans finished only behind the Steelers in regards to total yards allowed per game at 285.7 yards per game. Usually I talk about how the run defense or pass defense is the strong suit, but the Texans are equally strong in both facets. Last season they allowed only 189.7 yards through the air (3rd) and 96 on the ground (4th). Considering the teams the Texans played the first two weeks, the numbers for this season don’t leave much to get excited over. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to see the Texans defense pick up from where they left off in the playoffs last season. They currently stand as the top defensive team in the NFL statistically and it isn’t even close. The Texans have allowed only 196 yards per game in the first two weeks, while the Patriots are second at 264.5. For years it was the defense relying on the offense to win games, but things have certainly changed in a big way. Not because the offense has regressed, but the defense has provided the Texans with arguably the most rounded team in the NFL.
The offense has actually improved since the days of having to bail the defense out week-after-week. The biggest addition since that era has been running back Arian Foster. Fantasy junkies are familiar with Foster, as he has been the most coveted player to own the last two seasons. What makes Foster so special is his ability to be such a complete back. Running downhill up the middle, bouncing it to the outside, and being a threat in the passing game is a few of the tools he brings to the Texans. Foster nearly carried the Texans on his back last season into the AFC Championship after Matt Schaub went down with an injury late in the season. The Texans are going to try and slam the ball up inside with Foster and try and put the Broncos to sleep early in this game. If they find success with it, look out for Andre Johnson deep down the field off the play-action. The Texans have outscored their opponents 41-10 in the first half this season, if the Broncos start slow like on Monday night then they will not be able to make it interesting at the end like against the Falcons.
The Broncos are depending on Peyton Manning to have a big bounce back performance. After a productive week 1 against the Steelers, Manning looked completely lost in week 2. Manning finished with 241 yards, 1 TD, and 3 INTs. He seemed off balance and uncomfortable the entire game. His passes reflected that, as they came out flat and wobbly. Week 1 was his first real action in over a year for Manning, so perhaps week 1 took some energy out of him? I’m not sure if that is the case, but his arm strength didn’t look like the kind of stuff we are accustomed to seeing.
I keep hearing how the Broncos defense is “for real”, but I don’t get that premise to an extent. They are good, no questions, but not a defense that will be able to carry them if the offense begins to falter. The Falcons did whatever they wanted to do last week, and when the Broncos needed a stop to prolong the game in the fourth quarter they failed. Matt Ryan had plenty of time to sit back in the pocket and dissect what the defense provided him. The Broncos rank 16th in the league in points allowed per game at 23. Sure, they played decent against a one dimensional Steelers offense, but this will be the most rounded offense they will play all year.
Texans vs. Broncos Spread and Betting Odds:
Houston Texans -2 (-115)
@ Denver Broncos +2 (-105)
Over 45.5 (-110)
Under 45.5 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Steelers vs. Raiders Pick:
This game has the potential to be a real thriller. It perhaps could be a preview to an AFC playoff game without a doubt. Taking Manning off a bad week looks tempting, but unfortunately he will be going against the best overall defense in the NFL. Manning is familiar with the Texans, but hasn’t faced a Wade Philips defense yet. He is still a great quarterback, but the arm strength he once had is in the past. I firmly believe if Matt Schuab stayed healthy the Texans would have made it to the Super Bowl. They were extremely close to knocking off the Ravens in Baltimore, and if you were to add a capable quarterback to the mix then they most definitely would have won that game.
I believe Manning needs some more time to work with his new weapons. They looked terribly out of sync last week, and while they put up points in week 1 against the Steelers, Manning still had difficulty connecting downfield. I think talented defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing are going to make life miserable for Manning. He won’t have a dreadful repeat performance of last week, or will the Texans blow the Broncos out, but in the end the better team will pick up the victory. Now is the time that the rest of the world will recognize the Texans as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
PICK = Texans -2