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How can the Broncos’ defense contain the Texans’ aerial attack?

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I spoke with Rivers McCown to find out how to upset a Super Bowl contender.

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans
Can Fangio slow down an MVP candidate?
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

So far the Broncos are undefeated in the Drew Lock era, but they’ll face a tough test this weekend as they travel to Houston to square off against a Super Bowl contender. The Texans are 8-4 and sit atop the AFC South after beating the New England Patriots last Sunday. Deshaun Watson is an MVP contender and has a trio of incredibly talented receivers to torture opposing defenses.

To get a deeper look into the matchup, I spoke with Football Outsiders’ and Texans’ diehard Rivers McCown. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

1st and 10

What do you expect Romeo Crennel and the Texans defense to do to combat Drew Lock?

The Texans have primarily played zone since their bye week. The last time they played a true rookie quarterback -- Gardner Minshew in London -- they spent a lot of time getting him off his first read and getting him with happy feet in the pocket.

I think those two concepts will mostly intersect in their game plan of trying to hold down Lock. Quarters and Cover-2 with a lot of underneath defenders. Reading Lock’s scouting reports coming out of college, I think that’s a real test for him since a lot of the scuttlebutt was that he’d make mistakes. There’s no reason to make this game plan about letting Courtland Sutton beat you, that’s for sure. (I’m sure they’ll mix in plenty of man too.)

2nd and 7

What matchups between Denver’s O and Houston’s D should most concern Broncos’ Country?

Uhhh ... I don’t think there’s much in the way of matchups that should worry anybody when facing the Texans defense right now. Romeo Crennel has to scheme success out of them. I think the cornerback depth at this point is such that you probably shouldn’t expect much out of DaeSean Hamilton.

Looks like Ja’Waun James will be back so that’s a plus. Whitney Mercilus hasn’t been having a good month or so, but I think he can generate pressure on Garett Bolles. Jacob Martin is coming off a big game against New England but that’s mostly just speed rushes on the outside of tackles. Houston’s defense is more about letting you make mistakes than creating actual areas of concern for you in the absence of J.J. Watt. (And Jadeveon Clowney.)

3rd and 4

Deshaun Watson has looked like an MVP candidate for most of the year. How could Vic Fangio slow him down on Sunday?

Dare the Texans to run on you. They haven’t been able to do that for the last month or so and Bill O’Brien’s insistence on it as a big part of the game plan has hampered the offense. I have a healthy respect for what the Broncos have done as a defense this year, but a lot of what makes Watson an MVP candidate is just his ability to create out of structure and not something you can “slow down” per se. The Ravens rushed to contain a lot, but I think that might be a bit far outside of Fangio’s box of tactics.

Dare the Texans to throw deep on you. They won’t complete every pass. Watson is at his best targeting over the middle and getting the ball out quick to the playmakers this team has. You will get burned from time-to-time, but it’s been a high-variance proposition for the Texans this year and they tend to run a lot of max protect on their deep balls, so you can defend a lot of space.

4th and inches

Could you lay out a possible scenario where the Broncos’ find a way to spring the upset? What could that look like?

Absolutely: They game-script the Texans and crock pot them with a lead. Houston has allowed at least 140 rushing yards to each of their last three opponents, and are creating almost no negative plays in that area without Watt.

Denver’s running game has a pulse, so it seems more than sufficient to win time of possession and force a low amount of possessions. Do that and you force a lot on high-variance for the Texans, because as long as the game is close, O’Brien is happy to run the ball. I would not be surprised with any sort of high-teens point outcome for either side.

Poll

Who wins on Sunday?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Broncos by a lot.
    (16 votes)
  • 34%
    Broncos by a little.
    (143 votes)
  • 26%
    Texans by a lot.
    (108 votes)
  • 35%
    Texans by a little.
    (148 votes)
415 votes total Vote Now