Streak: Lost 12
All-time vs. Denver: 2-2-0
Last time: Texans 31 at Broncos 25 (9/23/12)
The Line: Broncos by 10.5
At first glance, you look at this Houston Texans team and think, "The Broncos should beat these guys easily."
But this isn't first glance, this is first look, and that slightly longer gaze gives us more critical information as to the type of team the Texans are.
This is a team that took the Seattle Seahawks into overtime - the NFC West leaders only got that chance because of a pick-six off Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter. This is a team that lost to the Kansas City Chiefs by one point. This is a team that got a 10-point lead on Tom Brady and the Patriots and kept up with them throughout the second half, only to lose in the fourth quarter after the fifth lead change of the game.
The Dumbening of the Texans
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This is a team that plays much better at home. The Texans average 21 points per game at home vs. 15 points per game on the road. Just look at Houston's two games against Indianapolis: this Texans team only lost by three when the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Houston, but they lost by 22 when they were on enemy turf.
The Texans are a good team with a bizarre string of bad luck that has led to their 12-game losing streak. With some buzz growing for Wade Phillips to remain as permanent head coach in 2014, the team has something to play for as well.
DE J.J. Watt. It has been three weeks since J.J. Watt registered a sack, but don't let that fool you: he's been very close, many times. Watt has seven QB hurries, six hits on the quarterback, and two passes batted down over the last three weeks alone, and his grades at ProFootballFocus.com have been consistently green all season long (he has an average grade of 5.5 - if you know PFF, you know that's very high). Watt was stonewalled as a pass rusher a little bit last week against the Colts. The last time that happened, in Week 6 against St. Louis, Watt bounced back the next week with a vengeance, tallying a sack, two QB hits, two hurries, and a batted pass against the Chiefs.
QB Case Keenum. Keenum had his worst week as a quarterback in Week 15 against Indianapolis, throwing two costly interceptions and nearly throwing a third. Keenum's completion percentage (18 of 34, 52.9%) and YPA (4.9) were both dismal, leaving it as no surprise that the Colts were able to thump the Texans 25-3 a week ago. Keenum was particularly susceptible to pressure, going 5-of-14 for 28 yards with an INT and four sacks when facing pressure from the Colts, according to PFF.
Matchup to Watch
WR Andre Johnson vs. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It's also likely the Broncos will line Chris Harris Jr. against Johnson, but the #1's for this game will play a crucial role in the Texans' success. One difference between Houston's close games and their blowout losses has been the production of Andre Johnson. Last week, in Houston's 22-point loss, Johnson was held to four catches for 18 yards. In the two weeks prior, Johnson had averaged 138 receiving yards, and the Texans played their opponents much closer, losing by three and 10 points respectively. This type of correlation between Andre Johnson's production and the Texans' ability to be competitive is fairly consistent throughout their season. The Texans go as Andre Johnson goes. Hold him up, and you can get pressure on Keenum. And as noted above, when Keenum feels the pressure, the Texans collapse.
The Texans are not a team that should be overlooked, especially with a head coach trying to prove he's worthy of losing the word "interim" in his job title. The Broncos better be ready to exceed the Texans' intensity in Houston this week.
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