Sunday was full of firsts for the Houston Texans in their 31-25 victory over the Denver Broncos. The first of the firsts is that the win improved the Texans record to 3-0 on the season, giving them their first 3-0 start in franchise history. The victory also gave Houston its first win at Sports Authority Field at Mile High after losing their previous 2 games there. Last but not least of the firsts was that this was the first time that the Texans have defeated Broncos QB and old nemesis Peyton Manning on the road.
The game also provided a first for Mr. Manning as well. In 19 career games against Houston, this was the first time that #18 faced a Texans defense that was actually capable of making life difficult for him. Manning was used to torching the Texans defense of old twice a year in the AFC South when he was quarterbacking the Indianapolis Colts. Going into Sunday’s game, Manning had posted a record of 16-2 vs the Texans.
Not only did he routinely beat them, he repeatedly burned the Texans to the tune of a 67% completion percentage with 5,122 yards, 42 TDs, 9 ints, and a QB rating of 105.2 Manning added another 300 yard game against Houston on Sunday but, 1) It took him 52 pass attempts to do it and 2) Most of those yards were accumulated after the Broncos had fallen behind 31-11 and were attempting a desperate 4th quarter comeback. Manning’s final stat line Sunday: 26-52 (a very low 50% completion percentage), 330 yards and 2 TDs, both in the 4th quarter.
As a matter of fact, the Broncos didn’t see the end zone until that final rally, as the Texans defense held them to 3 field goals through the first 3 quarters. Denver had 1 yard of total offense through the majority of the 3rd quarter, until they gained 42 yards on their last 2 plays of the 3rd to finish the quarter with a pedestrian 43 yards.
On top of that, Manning was on the run all day, as the Texans pass rush pressured him on several occasions. Even when he was not sacked, Manning was forced to move around in the pocket or had to get rid of the ball quicker than he wanted to. This disrupted the timing between #18 and his receivers, which helped account for the aforementioned low 50% completion rate. In all Houston sacked Manning 3 times, led by J.J. Watt (who else), who continued his monster start to the season with a career high 2.5 sack game.
While he was with the Colts, the Texans goal was to build a defense that could beat Manning. It’s ironic that Watt, who when drafted with the 11th pick in 2011 was told that he was brought in to get after Manning twice a year, led the charge a year later. With 7 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 QB hits on Manning, it’s safe to say he did the job. The pass rush helped the Texans DBs bat down 12 passes, led by Jonathan Joseph with 3 passes defensed.
The day actually could have been much worse for Manning, as several of those batted passes should have been interceptions. At least 3 passes hit Texan DBs in the hands or the numbers but they could not hang onto the ball. Besides the dropped picks and 2 big pass plays, the secondary was active and good in coverage. CB Kareem Jackson led Houston with 8 tackles and FS Quintin Demps tied Watt for second with 7 stops.
In the end, the Texans defense passed their hardest test thus far after feasting on Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert the first 2 weeks of the season. The only 2 times they had previously defeated Manning (2006 and 2010 at Reliant), they did so by running the ball, controlling the clock and keeping him on the sideline. This time with time of possession pretty even (31:40 for Houston to 28:20 for Denver), they not only slowed him down but they actually stopped him (aside from the 4th quarter flurry) the large majority of the game.
This bodes well for Houston’s defense going forward. Manning was just the first of several marquee signal callers on the 2012 schedule. That list includes Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler. In the past when about to face #18, the thought would be ‘Houston, we have a problem!’ Sunday that thought was, ‘Peyton, we have a defense!’ I’m pretty sure when he woke up this morning and reviewed the film of this game Manning felt the same way about the Texans. For the first time ever!