Monday Night Football's match-up between he Denver Broncos and Houston Texans can be adequately summed up in one phrase — familiar faces in different places.
Brock Osweiler, a 2012 draft pick of the Broncos, will lead the Texans into battle against his former squad tomorrow evening. Denver, under the leadership of Gary Kubiak will attempt to formulate a winning game plan against the team who gave him his first head coaching opportunity a decade ago in 2006, when he was calling the shots in Houston.
Gary Kubiak, who spent 8 yrs as Texans HC & faces them Monday, has helped Broncos to most wins (19) in NFL since being hired in '15. pic.twitter.com/2c1BU5BKBm— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) October 20, 2016
But the story line crossovers don't end there. Jared Crick, a draft pick of Kubiak's back in Houston, is hungry and ready to face off against his former team. Furthermore, Antonio Smith, who has a storied history with both franchises and earned a Super Bowl ring with Denver last season, will be on the opposing sidelines fighting in the trenches for the Texans.
Both teams are 4-2 and atop their respective divisions and each will be eager to notch another mark in the win column tomorrow night. Here is a brief overview of the Texans and some miscellaneous tidbits to look forward to for tomorrow's Monday Night Football festivities.
A Concern for Houston - Lack of Offensive Efficacy
The Houston Texans spent a lot of money to lure Brock Osweiler away from the Denver Broncos in free agency. They tout a 4-2 record with him at the helm, but it's pretty apparent that his performance to date hasn't justified the gargantuan contract he received.
Eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and a quarterback rating of 74.1 is all Osweiler has been able to muster this season — the epitome of mediocrity and a significant letdown for a franchise that busted open the proverbial piggy bank to secure his services. Despite adding a wealth of offensive talent around him, he has failed to live up to the lofty expectations to date and has been a major reason for the Texans' offensive struggles to date.
"We know Brock. He came from here and we just want to kill him."— USA TODAY Sports NFL (@usatoday_nfl) October 18, 2016
The Broncos are ready to face Brock Osweiler: https://t.co/003MQSB7z6
Overall, the Texans rank 30th in the league in points scored (18 per game) and 27th in regard to total yards offensively. Their passing offense is ranked 30th in the league (216.5 yards per game), whereas their rushing attack has fared much better, notching 111.2 yards per game which is good enough to place them as a top ten rushing attack in the NFL.
It would be unfair to place all of Houston's offensive woes solely on the shoulders of Osweiler, who has taken the second most hits (42) for a quarterback in the league, only behind Andrew Luck. The protection hasn't been there for him, which has hurt his ability to move the football down the field with any demonstrable amount of efficacy. The Broncos defense is best in the NFL when it comes to getting after the quarterback, and lead the league with 57 quarterback hits through six games.
Expect the Broncos' defense to be hungry and get after Osweiler as much as possible in order to throw their offensive game plan into complete disarray.
The X-Factor for Houston - Lamar Miller
Earlier this week I outlined some of the struggles the Broncos have had defensively, in particular their significant drop off in neutralizing opposing team's rushing attacks. Denver's defense will have a big test against tomorrow night and will be charged with stopping Texans running back Lamar Miller, who is coming off a breakout performance against the Indianapolis Colts where he racked up 149 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).
Miller is on pace for his best year in his fifth season as a pro. Through six games, the former Miami Hurricane has amassed 520 yards on 125 carries (4.2 YPC) and 111 yards receiving on 17 catches. He is a shifty player, with speed to burn who could pose problems for the Broncos' defense if they aren't able to win up front in the trenches. After years of being underutilized by the Miami Dolphins, it finally seems Miller is being entrusted with the feature back status he has shown the ability to handle over the course of his young career.
#Texans RB Lamar Miller is hungry for more touchdowns.— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) October 20, 2016
: https://t.co/igH1p61UEO pic.twitter.com/NhmSlntCEv
In order to alleviate some of the pressure quarterback Brock Osweiler will have in his return to the team that drafted him back in 2012, expect Houston's offense to feature Miller's talents immensely. My primary concern would be how well Denver's defense can hold up, especially in regard to outside containment. Miller's biggest strength is his ability to kick it outside and use his speed and agility to blow by defenders.
There have been a handful of occasions where Denver has failed to keep containment on the edge and allow big yards on off tackle runs. That simply can't happen if they are interested in getting back in the win column tomorrow night. Moreover, don't be surprised to see the Texans feature Miller's receiving abilities as well. Texans left tackle Duane Brown spoke at length to the media the other day about this and feels that Miller could do a lot of damage against a Broncos' defense that has shown vulnerability covering running backs this season.
If the Broncos can keep Miller in check for most of the game, they have a great shot at securing their fifth win of the 2016 season. If they don't, they could be in a lot of trouble.
Key Matchup's to Watch
Denver's Offensive Line vs. Houston's Defensive Line
Denver's offensive line has struggled this season and failed to produce at a high level, whether it's in pass protection or chipping away at defenses to bolster the running game. Houston has one of the better ranked pass defenses in the NFL, but ranks 29th in the league in respect to rush defense.
Tomorrow's match-up gives the Broncos a great opportunity to finally get their running game going, which would be a blessing for an offense that has struggled to consistently perform well in that regard. Expect a heavy dose of C.J. Anderson and perhaps a breakout performance from rookie running back Devontae Booker, who has earned a larger role in the team's offensive game plan according to Kubiak.
Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib vs. DeAndre Hopkins
DeAndre Hopkins is one of the league's best receivers and according to Chris Harris Jr., one of the toughest receivers he has ever faced. Expect him and Talib to have their fair share of coverage assignments on Hopkins.
@NFLTotalAccess @_ericdavis_ @ReggieWayne_17 @NFL Aqib Talib wins it down.— Nick Harper (@n_brandon4) October 20, 2016
Hopkins has been Osweiler's favorite target on the year, and in order for the Texans to beat the Broncos on Monday Night Football, he will have to have a big game and beat Harris Jr. or Talib for big plays.
There is no doubt that both teams will be eager to win Monday Night. I expect the Broncos to prevail over the Texans in a hard fought game headlined with the Broncos' defense coming up with a handful of big plays that help propel them to victory. Denver's defense talked big all week about how badly they want to rattle Osweiler and I fully believe that in addition to talking the talk, they will walk the walk and play one of their best games of the year against the Texans.
Broncos, 27, Texans, 17.