Cut the worldwide satellite feed.
Tell the primetime ad buyers they’ll have to wait.
Peyton Manning and the Broncos won’t have the bright lights of a primetime broadcast shining in their eyes this afternoon when they take on Gary Kubiak’s Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High today.
Like Manning, I’ve never been a guy to shy away from the spotlight. My performance of Henry IV at Warwickshire in ’87 stands out as a prime example. But we’re also the types that have made careers by delivering consistent performances on Sunday matinees as well. With the national spotlight finally off him, Manning can get down to business. It’s important he does, as Houston presents his biggest test to-date.
Save for the complete and utter physical breakdown at the quarterback position, Houston very well could have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl last year and pundits nationwide have made them an early favorite to play in New Orleans come February. Houston (2-0) has looked impressive so far this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is back to his old ways and has the Texans leading the league in total defense (196.0 ypg) and passing defense (124.0 ypg) – something that doesn’t bode well for Manning and the Broncos who have been only average through the air early in the season.
Denver’s running game (ie Willis McGahee) will be asked to shoulder a heavy load once again, as Mike McCoy will have to control possession and keep Houston, averaging 28.5 points per game, off the field. And after last week’s turnover fiesta in the first half, McCoy will need a conservative game plan against a Houston defense that has a plus-five turnover margin, including three interceptions, on the year. McGahee is fast approaching 31 years of age (he’ll celebrate Oct. 21 on the Broncos bye week), and while he’s managed to slip the tackle of Father Time thus far Denver’s younger backs, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and Ronnie Hillman (if he’s active) need to carry a bigger load, not only to keep McGahee healthy, but to keep Houston honest when Denver’s No. 1 tailback is on the sidelines.
Houston, however, faces their first real test of the year today. While Denver has been asked to shine in primetime against perennial powerhouse Pittsburgh in week one and against one of the NFC’s elite in Atlanta in week two, Houston has faced two teams from Florida that might struggle to beat the Florida State Seminoles this season, Miami and Jacksonville. Arian Foster appears to be fully healthy and notched his first 100-yard game of the year last week against the Jaguars – something he’ll look to repeat against a Denver rush defense that’s allowed just over 100 yards per game. Denver’s defense has held to its bend-but-don’t-break mentality in weeks one and two, but rush defense and third-and-long stops – two major issues last year – continue to be cause for concern. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard currently leads the team in tackles with 18 while the starting front four have notched just 15 between them. Look for Foster to try and tire the Broncos rush defense early in order to set up Matt Schaub and the passing attack.
Tracy Porter has been as good as advertised through two weeks, but the linebackers and safeties need to step up and provide better coverage over the middle to help solve the third down issues. Jack Del Rio says we should expect to see more of Keith Brooking this week and Chris Harris should be back in the lineup after missing last week. Del Rio will count on Harris to pick up much of that coverage when Schaub is looking downfield. If the Broncos can get the same downfield coverage they had in week one and force stops on the ground, Manning should have the time and possessions he’ll need to grind out a win.
Expect a grind-it-out game from both sides today. There’s no national audience to impress and both Denver and Houston know they’re facing a team they very well could see again on the road to Super Bowl XLVI. It’s time to get to work.
Final prediction: Broncos 24, Texans 17