It’s Brock Osweiler week, so naturally many of our questions for Battle Red Blog will revolve around the former Denver Broncos quarterback. However, the Houston Texans also have Lamar Miller and he will be the main threat on Monday Night Football. Here are five things we asked them about the matchup.
1) Let's get the big one out of the way first: What does the Houston fan base think so far about Brock Osweiler?
Honestly it's kind of all over the place. Osweiler has had moments but they've been offset by a lot of negatives also. There are so many issues regarding this offense and it's current performance(offensive line and play-calling) that pinning everything on Osweiler wouldn't be fair.
That being said he hasn't helped in any way. He's started seeing ghosts in the past few weeks and getting jittery in the pocket which has lead to a fair few issues in terms of his accuracy. Osweiler succeeds in this offense when he's pushing the ball down the field via the intermediate to deep passes. The issue being defenses have realised this and taken the deep options away by using two deep safeties and forcing Osweiler and the Texans to beat them using different methods and the answer to that has been that he can't (and it occasionally appears that O'Brien can't either).
That being said it's still week 6. He's only just passed the 1000 total snap mark and his ability with the deep ball (when teamed with Fuller and Hopkins) mean that defenses have to play two deep safeties otherwise they’re asking for trouble.
2) With the loss of J.J. Watt, the defense has to have taken a step back. That being said I thought they represented themselves well last week. Who are the guys on defense that are stepping up to help cover the void left by Watt's injury?
When you loose guys like Watt the best you can hope for is not one player stepping up but the collective getting better and better. There have been a few players on this defense which have acquitted themselves nicely over the past few weeks. LB's John Simon and Benadrick McKinney have been two that spring to mind more than any. Due to Clowney being shifted to a 3-4 DE spot, Simon has slotted in at the OLB spot and has done rather nicely. He does a little bit of everything well, works his ass off and pretty much out works blockers in order to make plays.
McKinney has been probably the Texans best defensive player so far this season and i'm not sure how close it is between him and second place. The Texans lost their primary starting middle linebacker (Brian Cushing) during the first week and McKinney stepped in and made the defense better. He's excellent at the line of scrimmage sifting through blockers to get to the ball carrier. He's also an excellent blitzer. One of the things which RAC (Romeo Crennel) has been doing with McKinney is having him running stunts behind Vince Wilfork which leaves McKinney free to loop around and blitz right into the A-Gap. It's something small but week after week McKinney has one or two moments where he cuts through the offensive line like a scalpel and creates pressure and in the case of the game on Sunday Night, makes plays.
3) Tell us about two players that the Broncos fans may not have heard of, but are really having a positive impact on your season.
Will Fuller and AJ Bouye. I know Will Fuller is kinda well known after the first few weeks he's had but screw it he's really fun to talk about. Watching Fuller play has been one of the only consistent joys of watching the Texans so far this season. Even in games where the Texans offense is struggling to get anything going and not really clicking it's always fun to watch corners react to Fuller's speed. Press cover him and he'll flambé your ass. Give him a cushion off the line of scrimmage because you don't want to give up the deep ball and he'll just run past you while you're still in your backpedal. Give him a good 3-5 yards of space of the line of scrimmage because you're playing zone and he'll live off of the space between the corner and the safety along with quick curl routes which he can use to create yards after the catch. I can't espouse just how fun it can be to watch Fuller work.
AJ Bouye may not be one of the better known members of the Texans defense but he's served a quiet yet effective role on the defense as it's main man for covering opposing teams TE's. The Texans have a long and painful past of struggling to cover TE's (See: Kelce, Travis) but as of this season the Texans have held opposing teams TE's in check rather well. Delanie Walker, Travis Kelce, Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett all failing to have 50+ yards receiving against the Texans and Bouye has played a big part in that. He may be giving up several inches and in height and 20-40 pounds in weight over whoever he is covering but he contests really well at the point of the catch and makes things difficult for opposing tight ends to get clean looks at catching the football.
4) Lamar Miller had a break out game last Sunday. Is this because the offensive line is finding their groove, his talent is showing up more, or was it because the Colt's defense is so bad at basic things like tackling? Are you pleased with what he's brought to your team so far in 2016?
The AFC South is terrible. The Colts have never been able to tackle. Rumors of them being able to tackle were just that; rumors. That being said the success that Miller had on Sunday Night was been a rarity. In a wonderful piece that our own Matt Weston did on the Texans offense the issue is that both Miller and the offensive line have to step up their game. Miller has struggled with the increased inside runs which haven't really played to his strengths and have also placed the burden on the offensive line to create yardage, something which they really struggle to do (especially Jeff Allen). In an ideal world Miller and the run game would be the bread and butter of this offense. If Lamar Miller is making reasonable gains on the ground for Houston is free's up so much more of the playbook to explore and also forces defenses to consider the viability of the run, which is something which hasn't been on the table the past few weeks. If the Texans can continue to utilise runs based more to the outside which play more into Miller's strengths then things could really start to change with the offense.
In summation Miller hasn't been as good as we would have wanted but if the Texans can work him into more of the situations that they did in the Colts game then we could begin to see the talent that we know is there.
5) What are your 3 keys to the game and final score prediction?
i) Get Lamar Miller going: This Texans offense desperately needs the running game to be working if it's going to have any chance of winning. A good run game takes less of the burden off of Osweiler both from a usage standpoint and schematic standpoint. If a good run game exists then the looks Osweiler will get will hopefully be less restrictive in terms deep ball opportunities.
ii) Find what works with Brock: Finding a way to get consistent yardage through the air is going to be another big issue for the offense. Whether it be through usage of the TE's(Something which has become a staple over the past few weeks) exploiting the zones in between the line backer and safety or Will Fuller getting the ball on quick screen passes, it's all got to be part of getting Brock into a rhythm and hopefully generating consistent yardage through the air.
iii) Pressure, Pressure, Pressure: With the Texans secondary nursing all kinds of injuries is going to be on the front 7 to generate consistent pressure and not allow Siemian to get comfortable in the pocket. The Broncos have one of the higher adjusted sack rates in the entire league so the Texans two studs, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, are going to be big in the outcome of the game. Clowney is tied for the NFL lead in TFL and Mercilus has 4.5 sacks so there has been production there but it'll still need to be on top form in order for the Texans to win out here.
Prediction: This game could be really quite close if everything goes the Texans way. IF. This Texans team has really struggled in prime time games also so that makes me a little bit more tepid about calling this game for the Texans hence why I won't. I think this Broncos defense will just be too good and the Texans offense won't be good enough.
Broncos 24 Texans 17.