By Rich Kurtzman
Following two prime time games against big time opponents, the Denver Broncos have another tough test this weekend against the undefeated Houston Texans. Houston is on a roll early in the year–they rolled over both the Miami Dolphins (30-10) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (27-7) to start the season spectacularly.
The Texans have been known as an offensive-minded squad, predicated on the play-action pass and running the rock roughly through the tackles, and they’ve excelled in that department.
But this year’s team is different. The men from Houston are the most dominant defense in the league through two weeks, allowing a by-far best 196 yards per game and a miniscule 124 yards per through the air. On top of that, they’ve allowed opponents only 24 total first downs, while keeping them to an incredibly low 2-19 (11 percent) on third down.
Wade Phillips should be commended for his scheming and getting the Texans to play to an elite level as their 3-4 defense looks to be legit.
Inside linebacker Brian Cushing has been crushing opposing players, racking up a team high nine tackles while forcing one fumble and intercepting a pass as well. He’s one of the hardest hitters in the NFL today, a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. Second-year defensive end J.J. Watt has been all over the quarterback, as he sits with a team leading three sacks, and strong safety Glover Quin has a forced fumble as well.
And while the defense has been noteworthy—albeit against terrible offensive teams—no one can discredit the Texans’ offense, either.
Matt Schaub, now in his ninth season, has started off hot with a 69.7 completion percentage. Although he’s only thrown for one touchdown, Schaub has been incredibly efficient with protecting the ball, as he’s yet to throw an interception or fumble. Veteran receiver and tight end Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels have been Schaub’s two favorite receivers through two games, compiling nearly identical numbers, with Johnson having the only receiving score on the year.
Make no mistake about it though, this team is built on running the rock.
Houston utilizes the zone blocking scheme, which head coach Gary Kubiak has been running since his days in Denver, and they do so exceedingly well. The Texans’ five rushing touchdowns are a league best, while they come in sixth for rushing yards at 299.
Arian Foster is possibly the most dangerous back in the game, running ferociously through the tackles and taking off outside. He’s started the season somewhat slowly, with a 3.5 YPC average that’s the lowest of his career, and he’ll be looking to break out of that slump Sunday.
Behind him sits a profoundly powerful runner in Ben Tate, who is beefier and seen as a short-yardage back. Tate was a complete non-factor in Week One, but he bounced back last Sunday, running for 75 yards and two scores on the Jaguars.
Overall, the Texans are currently one of the best teams in the NFL—coming in as a 9-2 odd to win the Super Bowl this week—and they protect the ball and force turnovers. They’re a +5 in the turnover differential department.
It’s going to be an arduous task for the Broncos to win this week, but there’s no doubt they’re hungry after losing last Sunday.
Houston’s head coach is Gary Kubiak, who was once John Elway’s backup quarterback in Denver, and later, his offensive coordinator under Mike Shanahan during the back-to-back Super Bowl wins.
Wade Phillips, who heads up the Texans’ defense, was the Broncos’ head coach in 1993 and 1994.
With all the connections–not just with coaches, but many players too over the last decade–Houston has been dubbed “Denver south” by some analysts.
Also, current Broncos’ tight end Joel Dreessen played with the Texans from 2007-2011, with a career-best six touchdown receptions last year.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.