Texans vs. Broncos: 5 Ways Houston Can Attack Denver

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

That expression is appropriate for a guy who just found out who he has to block this week.
That expression is appropriate for a guy who just found out who he has to block this week.Rob Carr/Getty Images

The pushovers have been pushed aside.

Now it's time to see what the Houston Texans are made of.

Houston is slightly favored on the road against the Denver Broncos in Week 3, a testament to just how dominant they have been early in 2012.

The Texans have been clicking both offensively and defensively, but the Broncos are made of sterner stuff than the Jaguars and Dolphins.

If Houston wants to run their record to 3-0 for the first time in franchise history, here's how they'll attack Denver.



Block Von Miller

Asking a team to block Von Miller is like asking a team to block J.J. Watt. There is literally nothing he doesn't do well. He's an elite run defender. He's an elite pass-rusher. He's even been good in pass coverage.

Miller can come from anywhere, but Derek Newton will have to be hyper-aware of him bringing it from the right side. Matt Ryan found out the hard way that even when he's double-teamed, he can still pick up sacks.

If the Texans don't find a way to give Newton help, Miller will destroy Matt Schaub and wreak havoc in the Texans' backfield.


Stay Patient

Denver is a wonderful test for the Texans offense. They can stop the pass, cover and rush the passer. There are going to be dead-end drives. The temptation will be to get away from the run, especially if Peyton Manning puts up points early.

Houston has a unique identity, and it will be tested against Denver. Under most circumstances, abandoning the run is a great strategy because runs tend to be sub-optimal plays. However, the Texans' entire scheme is so tied into the run and the threat of it that to abandon it cripples the offense.



Force Manning to Go Long

Texans fans have long suspected Manning has super-natural abilities, but those days are long gone. Now there are serious questions as to his arm strength.

Manning hasn't been great at the deep ball for a long time, but now more than ever, his ability to go long is inconsistent at best.

No matter how popular the four-time MVP is, it doesn't mean he's the same player who tortured the Texans for years.

It sounds like heresy, but the Texans should flood the short zones and force Manning to throw over the top. Manning will lust for single-coverage on deep routes, but it remains to be seen if he can still capitalize in that way.

Manning won't be able to resist the deep reads. Making him hit those throws is a gamble, but one that should pay off for Houston.


Blitz Manning in a Way He Hasn't Seen

Manning has seen every possible blitz that has ever been run in NFL history, but that doesn't mean that Wade Phillips can't dial up something novel with the Texans.

Whitney Mercilus has barely seen the field, with just 24 snaps in two weeks.

Now is the time to bust him out.

Manning is taking sacks at a rate unheard of in his recent career, and there are signs he's not fully comfortable with the new offensive system.

Using a fresh face who is more than capable of getting after the passer could be the key to making him uncomfortable.


Johnathan Joseph Must Take Away Demaryius Thomas

Thomas is the only significant Denver receiver with a positive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) right now.

Eric Decker and Brandon Stokely can be handled by the rest of the Houston defense, but for a task like Thomas, the Texans should dedicate their best defender to stopping him.

If the Texans shut down Thomas, they'll shut down Manning and they'll shut down the Broncos.

There's no complex analysis necessary here. Joseph is up to the task. They just have to ensure the matchup takes place.



Playing on the road is a greater test than ever with replacement officials.

On a neutral field, I'd be inclined to favor Houston, but the environment is not right for road teams right now. As dominant as the Texans have been, they do have weaknesses a good team can exploit.

This should be a competitive and entertaining game, and if it's fairly officiated, a Texans win would surprise no one.

If the Broncos get the benefit of a few iffy flags—and the odds of that are high—Houston may not be able to overcome Manning, Miller, Mile High and the zebras.


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