Denver Broncos: 5 Keys to Game vs Houston
After a disappointing effort Monday night against the Falcons, the home crowd will be eager to see the Broncos get back in the win column as they play their first game of the season inside the tradition Sunday afternoon time slot.
The Texans bring their 2-0 record into Sports Authority Field, but those wins are against the Dolphins and Jaguars. Even so, there is no doubting the Texans as a legitimate threat to the AFC crown this season, but the Broncos are capable of beating them this weekend.
Here are the five keys to the game that will aid in them doing just that.
Slow Down the Run
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The Texans are a very potent offense, but they thrive on their running game.
Everybody knows the name Arian Foster and he has had a very good start to the 2012 season. He has 189 yards rushing in the first two games to go with three touchdowns. His 3.5 yards a carry don't reflect the Texans' commitment to the running game. They have ran 77 run plays to running backs in the first two games, with Foster getting 54 of those.
Aside from Foster, the Texans have a very capable No. 2 runner in Ben Tate. He can spell Foster and come up with some big plays. These are two players the Broncos need to be focused on stopping.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub loves to throw the ball around after exposing the opponent with the run.
The Broncos need to win the battles up front and keep the Texans to minimal gains on the ground, forcing Schaub to convert third and long situations.
Limit Schaub's Options
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Yes, Schaub has one of the game's top receivers in Andre Johnson. The Broncos need to work on taking away the guys people don't know so much about.
Schaub likes to spread the ball around. He has completed 46 passes in the first two games to eight different receivers. But in taking a closer look, 14 of those passes have gone to the running backs, Foster and Tate, with most of those likely on check-downs.
Although Roddy White had a big game against Denver on Monday, their other star receiver, Julio Jones, was held to just four catches for 14 yards. Broncos fans will be hopeful that the secondary, led by All-Pro Champ Bailey, can bottle up Johnson the same way.
The key will be keeping a close eye on Schaub's second and third reads in his progressions, especially the check-down passes to the running backs.
Take What the Defense Gives
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Manning uncharacteristically threw three first quarter interceptions against the Falcons, hampering the team's hopes for a road win. All three throws looked as though Manning was trying to do a little too much and he even admitted that film would likely show that there was an easier throw to a guy who was wide open.
Now the questions of Manning's arm strength have been brought to the forefront again after several of his passes Monday night were far from a spiral.
Manning has always been excellent at taking what the defense gives him and that is what he needs to do against Houston. Atlanta did a god job of mixing up looks and trying to throw something at Manning that he wasn't ready for. The Texans may do the same thing, but Manning just needs to show some patience and hit some of the short underneath routes before trying to throw 30 yards down the field with a safety hovering over the top.
Keep Peyton Upright
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In order for Manning to take what the defense gives him, he will have to be kept inside a clean pocket.
The Falcons were able to get three sacks of Manning along with several hits, making his night all the more frustrating. In playing the Texans, the pass rush will be even more fierce.
Houston sports guys like Brooks Reed, Tim Jamison and J.J. Watt, who in his second year is quickly becoming one of the league's premier pass rushers. He already has three sacks in the first two games and as a team, the Texans have six.
The pressure will be on the offensive line to keep these guys at bay, allowing Manning to find his targets.
If Watt and his mates can get the pressure on Manning and put him on the ground a few times, it could be a long day for the Broncos. This could be the biggest key to this game.
Rely on Willis
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The Broncos will be well served to slow this game down and beat the Texans at their own game-grinding out tough yardage and controlling the clock. Against the Jaguars last Sunday, the Texans had over 43 minutes time of possession! That's absurd in the NFL.
The Broncos need to rely on their workhorse running back, Willis McGahee. He has 177 yards on the ground in two games and he is averaging a very solid 4.6 yards per carry. The Broncos can spell him for a carry or two with Lance Ball or Knowshon Moreno, but McGahee needs to see 25 carries in this game.
If the Broncos use a run first approach with McGahee and Manning is left with convertible second and third down situations, it will help negate the pass rush and allow Manning to pick his spots to eventually take a shot.