86F Sports Authority Field, Denver, CO
The Houston Texans have had little trouble rolling over a couple of overmatched opponents in the first two weeks.
It would seem they'll get a much stiffer test in their third game with a date with an old adversary, but with the way Peyton Manning played last week the Texans could be poised for another lopsided victory.
Houston tries to open with three wins for the first time in franchise history Sunday when it visits the Denver Broncos and Manning, who is looking to bounce back from a forgettable performance.
The Texans are first in the NFL in total defense (196.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.5 per game), but that shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering their first two opponents were Miami and Jacksonville. They forced four turnovers in Ryan Tannehill 's debut in a 30-10 win over the Dolphins in Week 1 and allowed a franchise-low 117 yards in last Sunday's 27-7 victory in Jacksonville.
Houston, the only NFL team to open 2-0 in each of the last three seasons, expects a much greater challenge this time around.
"These two are behind us, and it's time to start looking forward," said Houston coach Gary Kubiak, who backed up John Elway with the Broncos from 1983-91 and later worked on Denver's staff under Mike Shanahan. "We know we've got a huge test coming down there, with Peyton leading the way for them and the type of player he is."
The type of player Manning is, however, isn't completely clear.
After throwing two touchdowns and finishing with a 129.2 passer rating in leading the Broncos to a 31-19 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 1, Manning had three interceptions in the first eight minutes of Monday night's 27-21 loss to Atlanta. The NFL's only four-time MVP insists the picks were because of poor decisions and not his surgically repaired neck.
"Really, three poor decisions, three throws into coverage," said Manning, who ended up completing 24-of-37 passes for 241 yards with a touchdown and a QB rating of 58.5. "Each turnover has its own story that no one really wants to hear. I've just got to take care of the ball better."
Questions are being raised about Manning's arm strength and his condition after four neck surgeries and a year off from football, but the 11-time Pro Bowler maintains his confidence has not diminished.
The Texans are also not about to presume that one poor performance by Manning suggests the future Hall of Famer's career is on the decline. They've seen him pick apart their defense too many times.
Manning was 16-2 against Houston during his time in Indianapolis, and his 110.6 QB rating against the Texans is his best against any team he's played more than four times.
"You've got to respect his greatness," Houston left tackle Duane Brown said. "You see what he's able to do when he's on the field, and keeping him off the field is the best defense for us."
The Texans had no trouble chewing up the clock last Sunday, holding the ball for more than 43 minutes, but again, they were playing the Blaine Gabbert -led Jaguars.
Houston's offense has displayed its versatility in its first two contests, as Matt Schaub passed for 266 yards in the opener before giving way to the run game in Week 2. Arian Foster rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and Ben Tate added 74 yards and two scores on 12 attempts.
As a product of the run-heavy offense, Andre Johnson was limited to 21 yards on three catches. The four-time All-Pro receiver had eight receptions for 119 yards in the opener.
"There are a lot of different approaches we can take to the game, based on what we think is our strength or our matchup," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "That was last game, so I've got to move on."
The Texans might revert back to the passing game, given that Denver has allowed 142 total rush yards on an average of 2.6 per carry.
The Broncos' ground game gave the team a boost last week while Manning struggled, as Willis McGahee carried 22 times for 113 yards.
This is the first matchup between these teams since Denver rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter behind two Tim Tebow touchdowns in a 24-23 win on Dec. 26, 2010.