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Scouting the enemy: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are one of the hottest teams in the National Football League and have won five-straight games. Here is a deeper look at who the Denver Broncos are facing on Sunday.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After starting off the year with three straight losses, the Houston Texans have embarked on an extraordinary gridiron journey to reel off five straight victories. That trek of success has propelled them to the top of the AFC South with a realistic shot at winning the division or at the very least securing a wildcard playoff berth.

That is a stark contrast to what we have witnessed with our beloved Denver Broncos, who started off the year with two impressive wins but have lost five out of their last six games. A loss at home to the Texans would more than likely eliminate the Broncos from playoff contention and cast an even darker and ominous cloud over their 2018 season. Can the Broncos get back on track and begin to salvage their season with a win on the road in Houston or will the Texans run wild and extend their winning streak to six games?

Let’s take a deeper look at the Texans and how they have went from a 4-12 squad a year ago to one of the hottest teams in the National Football League.

A quick glance at the Texans’ offense

The Texans’ offense is an above-average unit, but one that has big-play potential. They rank fifteenth in the league in points scored (24.6) and yardage (379.0) per game. Their rushing offense is eleventh league-wide averaging 123 yards per game, with their passing attack coming in at eighteenth overall amassing 256 yards per contest.

Missing half of his rookie campaign due to a season-ending knee injury, second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson has come back strong and been a primary reason for the team’s offensive success to date. In half a season of play, Watson is completing nearly 65 percent of his passes and has thrown for 2,176 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has also continued to establish himself as a threat running the ball, amassing 230 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries.

All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has undoutedbly been Watson’s favorite target. Through eight games, the former Clemson product has reeled in 53 receptions for 789 yards and six touchdowns. He is on pace for his best season statistically since his 2015 campaign where he caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Texans’ wide receiving corps suffered a huge blow when Will Fuller was lost for the season after suffering an ACL tear against the Miami Dolphins. In order to replace Fuller, the Texans became late-night bidders and acquired Demaryius Thomas before the trade deadline. With Hopkins and Thomas, the Texans have one of the best wide receiver duos in the league. The two could be in for huge games with the Broncos having a few players in their secondary ruled out for tomorrow’s game.

After enduring a relatively mediocre beginning to his 2018 campaign, running back Lamar Miller is starting to hit his stride as of late. In his last two games, Miller has rushed 40 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns and has gotten better as the season has progressed. There is no question the Texans would love to establish the run and help him achieve his third straight 100-yard game. When Miller is out of the game, the ball is placed in the hands of Alfred Blue who has rushed the ball 79 times for 258 yards and 1 touchdown on the year.

A quick glance at the Texans’ defense

One of the primary reasons for the Texans’ positive overall transformation has been their success defensively. After struggling immensely in that regard in 2017, the Texans have had an incredible turnaround on that side of the ball. In fact, it may be one of the most under-heralded story-lines of the season across the league.

Last season, their defense allowed the most points in all of football. This year they have improved demonstrably in that regard surrendering just 20.9 points per game — ninth best in the league. In terms of yardage allowed, they are also ninth best allowing 334.9 yards per game. Their rushing defense is staunch and is only giving up a paltry 95.1 yards per contest which ranks seventh-best in the league. Their passing defense is ranked twelfth overall, allowing 239.8 yards per game. Their defense also has a penchant for forcing turnovers, reeling in seven interceptions and recovering seven forced fumbles.

It all starts up front on the Texans’ defense who have a formidable pass rush headlined by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. They rank eleventh in the league with 21 total sacks with the aforementioned duo combining for 12.5 sacks. They also do a great job of opening things up for their highly-touted linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney, who have been all over the field this year making plays and are on pace to break 100 tackles each this season. Those are the four key players the Broncos will have to account for on each and every snap on Sunday.

While Tyrann Matheiu and Kareem Jackson are their most well-known and respected members of their secondary, there is one under-the-radar player who has made an impact in his first season with the team. That’s rookie safety Justin Reid out of Stanford. He has been a revelation as of late, earning four consecutive starts and amassing 39 tackles and two interceptions. He has been the most active member of their secondary and appears to be progressing each and every game. It certainly looks like they found a gem in the third round with Reid. Make no mistake, the Texans’ top-ten defense is for real and poses a real threat to shut down the Broncos’ offense.

Two Keys to the Game

Broncos’ offensive line versus Texans’ defensive front

One of the biggest concerns for me in respect to tomorrow’s game is how the Broncos’ offensive line will perform against the Texans’ ferocious defensive front. The key match-up in my eyes is Garett Bolles going up against Jadeveon Clowney. Can Bolles handle his speed and power off the edge and put together a consistent performance or will he continue to underwhelm and implode at the most inopportune of times? If the Broncos’ offensive line can’t protect Case Keenum (who definitely needs to get the ball out a lot earlier), things could get ugly real quick.

Will the Broncos’ secondary be able to cover DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas?

With Bradley Roby being sidelined, it’s expected that Traimaine Brock will be matched up against Demaryius Thomas and Chris Harris Jr. locked in on DeAndre Hopkins. Darian Stewart is also out for a second-straight game, which will make the Broncos’ defensive back end even more vulnerable. I’m extremely worried about the Broncos’ ability to contain both Hopkins and Thomas on the field. The No Fly Zone has turned into the Frequent Fly Zone this season and has given up a lot of big-time plays. This will be a huge test for them and I have no doubts that Thomas will bring his best going up against the franchise that just jettisoned him away for a fourth round draft pick.

Hart’s Prediction

The Texans are scorching hot, the Broncos are on the verge of collapse. One team is headed in the right direction, one team is on a familiar road to nowhere. The Texans’ defense is one of the best in the league and their aerial attack has a lot of offensive firepower. Unfortunately, I think both of them will cause problems for the Broncos on Sunday and result in a victory for the Texans.

Texans 27, Broncos 24.