Though you won’t find a bigger fan of the Houston Texans than I am, it’s never been difficult for me to pick against them. However, since the “Wade Phillips” era began, I don’t feel that typical Houston pro football fan’s sense of constant dread.
I was all set to pick the Broncos to beat the Texans on Sunday. Then the Monday night game happened and Peyton Manning struggled mightily. This set off a series of irritating and somewhat contradictory feelings. Observe:
1. Peyton Manning’s throws looked as bad to me against the Falcons as they did in Denver’s win against Pittsburgh, yet somehow the outcome of each game was vastly different.
2. Despite the first quarter of that game, which had to be the worst quarter in Manning’s career, the Broncos still found themselves within one score of the Falcons – in Atlanta – against a very tough team on a Monday night.
The thing about Manning is, it’s very clear he doesn’t have the same zip on the ball – but he’s still the same guy mentally. If he keeps trying to fire the ball into tight spaces, we’re going to see his career evaporate (unless his arm strength is gradually returning.)
If he is able to recognize his level of limitation and match that with his accuracy in such a way that he manages the short and intermediate routes, he should still be pretty close to the same guy. That’s a more drastic adjustment than it probably sounds like, but if there’s a guy in the NFL that could do it, and do it on a quick turnaround, it’s Peyton Manning.
As far as Sunday’s game goes, the Texans have a few things to worry about on defense. First and foremost, as discussed on Battle Red Radio this week and on other Texans sites, Houston has to expect that Manning will be keying on Kareem Jackson. Expect a lot of quick outs, slants, and otherwise to Eric Decker or whoever Kareem covers.
Secondly, Bradie James is obviously a liability in coverage against running backs and tight ends, so we will see how Peyton takes advantage of those matchups when James is on the field. Of course, I don’t want to give too much credit to Manning and none to Wade Phillips, who is as much of a defensive mastermind as Peyton is a mastermind as a quarterback.
Wade may publicly say how well Bradie James is playing for Houston, but behind closed doors he knows how much of a disaster he has been so far. There just isn’t much the Texans can do at this point, given their lack of depth behind him.
On offense, the Texans’ biggest worry is of course Derek Newton and how he will hold up in pass protection against what should be a heavy dose of Von Miller. Miller is one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the game today, and his speed could be a big issue for Newton. I would expect Miller to be lined up against Newton all game long, perhaps with the occasional rotation with Elvis Dumervil from the other side. I fully expect Duane Brown to handle Elvis Dumervil. I can’t put it any clearer than that.
The Broncos are said to have a built-in advantage when they play at home due to the thin air. I have always held the belief that this is an overrated, overstated advantage. These are highly-conditioned professional athletes and I expect them to be able to handle it. However, I have heard a few former defensive players say this week that it is actually quite a factor. I suppose I have to amend my feelings on the subject as their opinion on this matter clearly carries more weight than anyone else’s.
I really did have it locked and loaded to pick the Broncos in a close one, but I just think this Texans defense is playing at too high a level right now. I also expect Manning to be stubborn with his arm strength and continue to play the game as if everything is the same – for now. That will change as the year goes on if his arm strength doesn’t return.
It certainly would not be a “bad loss” or a disaster if the Texans dropped this game, but to see them go on the road and get a win against a good team like Denver – it’s just not something the “Pre-Wade Era” Texans were capable of. Neither on the field, nor in their heads.