The Houston Texans travel to the Mile High City to face off against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The Broncos come into the game with a record of 1-1 following a 27-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. The Broncos fell behind early in that one, due to an uncharacteristic 3 interceptions thrown on their first 3 offensive possessions by Manning. Denver rallied with 14 fourth quarter points, but the rally fell short to hand them their first loss.
The Broncos won their season opener at home 31-19 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in large part due to a vintage Manning performance in his first game in a Bronco uniform, and his first game after missing the entire 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries. Manning will look to get back on track this week against a Texans team that he routinely torched twice a year when he was QB of the Indianapolis Colts. His career record against Houston while with Indy was a stellar 16-2 with 42 TDs and only 9 interceptions.
However, what he sees on Sunday will be a new look to him from the Texans, as this will be Manning’s first time going against Houston’s Wade Phillips 3-4 defense. The connections between the Texans and Broncos go back several years. In fact, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has a rich history with the Denver franchise. He was Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1995-2005 prior to coming to Houston, where he coached Broncos Executive VP of Football Operations John Elway and won 2 Super Bowl Rings. Kubiak also played QB for the Broncos from 1983-1991, ironically backing up Elway.
Texans GM Rick Smith also came to Houston via Denver, arriving with Kubiak after heading the Broncos pro personnel department and coaching the defensive backs prior to moving into their front office. The zone blocking scheme that the Texans run so effectively was brought from Denver to Houston by Kubiak.
Denver will have a familiar face on their sideline who can give them some tips and insight on what to expect from the Texans. Former Texans TE Joel Dreesen, who signed with the Broncos as a free agent this past offseason, played 5 seasons with Houston. Look for Manning to look to him and fellow TE Jacob Tamme early in this game. I feel that the Broncos will use a lot of 2 tight end formations to try to help offset the ferocious Houston pass rush. Both Dreesen and Tamme will likely be put in motion throughout the game.
All of this will be part of an interesting chess match between Manning, the master of pre-snap audibles and recognition, and Phillips, whose defense is ranked #1 in the NFL after two weeks. The Broncos would love to get a nice game on the ground from RB Willis McGahee, who in the loss to the Falcons rushed for 113 yards and 2 TDs. It was the 31st career 100 yard rushing game for McGahee, tying him with St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson for most among active players. If the Broncos and McGahee can get the running game going that will help open up play-action for Manning, where he will then look to get the ball downfield to WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
On defense, Denver is led by OLB Von Miller and DE Elvis Dumervil, one of the top pass rushing tandems in the NFL. Miller, in his 2nd season out of Texas A&M, was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year last season after tallying 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Dumervil added 9.5 sacks to give them 20 sacks combined last season. Both Pro-Bowlers will look to apply pressure to Matt Schaub and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Perhaps the most interesting matchup to watch on Sunday will be the one between 2 All-Pros and probable future Hall of Famers, Broncos CB Champ Bailey vs Texans WR Andre Johnson. Bailey is still going strong in his 14th season in the league. His 11 career Pro-Bowl selections are the most for a CB in NFL history. Look for him to get plenty of time on Johnson Sunday. Denver 1st year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, like Manning, is familiar with the Texans from his years in the AFC South as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.