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NFL Preview - Houston (2-0) at Denver (1-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The would-be Florida vacation for the Houston Texans has ended.
After rolling over lesser-lights Miami and Jacksonville in their initial two games of 2012, the Texans take a Week 3 jump when they travel to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for a Sunday afternoon date with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Houston has never won its opening three games in franchise history, but it's positioned well -- at least statistically -- this time around. The Texans enter the fray No. 1 in the league in both total defense (196.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.5 points per game).
The Texans forced four turnovers in a season-opening 30-10 defeat of the Dolphins, then allowed just 117 total yards in a 27-7 victory over the Jaguars last week.
"These two (games) are behind us, and it's time to start looking forward," Houston head coach Gary Kubiak said. "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."
What's known is that Kubiak was John Elway's backup with the Broncos from 1983 to 1991 and later worked as an assistant coach under former Denver head coach Mike Shanahan.
What's not known is exactly what sort of hurdle the aforementioned Manning presents for Houston.
Manning ended a one-year injury sabbatical in winning style in the Broncos' 31-19 Week 1 defeat of Pittsburgh, in which he threw two touchdown passes and racked up a 129.2 passer rating, but followed it up with three first-quarter interceptions on the way to a 27-21 Week 2 loss Monday night in Atlanta.
But the neck injury that warranted four surgeries and put Manning's career in question is not an issue, he said.
"Really, three poor decisions, three throws into coverage," Manning said of his early interceptions. "Each turnover has its own story that no one really wants to hear. I've just got to take care of the ball better."
He completed 24-of-37 passes for 241 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 58.5 against the Falcons, but is 16-2 in his career against Houston -- a favorite whipping post during Manning's days with the Indianapolis Colts. His 110.6 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 offensive 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."
Possession was the path to success for Houston against Jacksonville. The Texans held the ball for more than 43 minutes while unleashing a ground game that yielded 110 yards and a touchdown for Arian Foster, and 74 yards and a pair of scores from backup running back Ben Tate.
Quarterback Matt Schaub passed for 266 yards against Miami and hit wideout Andre Johnson eight times for 119 yards. The pair connected just three times for 21 yards against the Jaguars, however.
Denver has allowed just 142 rushing yards and an average of 2.6 yards per carry through the first two games.
"There are a lot of different approaches we can take to the game, based on what we think is our strength or our matchup," Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "(The rout of Jacksonville) was last game, so I've got to move on."
Broncos lead 2-1
Last Meeting: Broncos 24, Texans 23 (Dec. 26, 2010 at Denver)
Texans HC Gary Kubiak vs. Broncos: 1-1 Broncos HC John Fox vs. Texans: 0-2 overall, 0-0 with Denver Kubiak vs. Fox Head-to-Head: Kubiak leads, 1-0
Notes: Texans are 0-2 all-time at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, having also dropped a 31-13 to the Broncos there in 2004 in addition to their 2010 setback. Kubiak played nine years for Denver as a backup quarterback from 1983-91 and was part of two Super Bowl champion teams, and also served as the Broncos' offensive coordinator from 1995-2005 before becoming Houston's head coach. Fox lost to Kubiak's Texans by a 34-21 score in 2007 while then at the helm of Carolina, and his Panthers also fell to Houston in 2003. Current Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville was the interim head coach for Denver's 2010 victory over Houston.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Houston: 10th overall (374.0 ypg), 6th rushing (149.5 ypg), 21st passing (224.5 ypg), 9th scoring (28.5 ppg)
Denver: 20th overall (335.0 ypg), 15th rushing (106.0 ypg), 20th passing (229.0 ypg), 12th scoring (26.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Houston: 1st overall (196.0 ypg), 8th rushing (72.0 ypg), 1st passing (124.0 ypg), 1st scoring (8.5 ppg)
Denver: 8th overall (279.5 ypg), 7th rushing (71.0 ypg), 9th passing (208.5 ypg), 16th scoring (23.0 ppg)
Houston: + 5 (5 takeaways, 0 giveaways) Denver: - 4 (1 takeaways, 5 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Houston: 50.0 percent (12 possessions, 6 TD, 5 FG) -- tied 20th overall Denver: 71.4 percent (7 possessions, 5 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 4th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Houston: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 2nd overall Denver: 62.5 percent (8 possessions, 5 TD, 3 FG) -- 21st overall
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
Ably playing the role of road warrior, Schaub has 10 touchdown passes and just one interception while compiling a 110.6 passer rating in his last six games away from home. He also needs only a single scoring pass to reach 100 for his career. In one career start against Denver, Schaub completed 23-of-33 throws for 310 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a 96.8 passer rating in a 2010 loss. Foster, who ran past Domanick Williams (3,195) for the most rushing yards in franchise history (3,286) and reached the century mark for the 17th time last week, had 91 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Texans' 2010 loss to Denver. Fellow runner Tate added a career-best pair of touchdowns last week as well. On the outside, wide receiver Johnson has an NFL-best average of 79 receiving yards per game since 2003.
Perennially a thorn in the side of opposing quarterbacks, the Broncos are tied for second in the AFC with six sacks through two games. Linebacker Von Miller, a Texas native who was last year's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, already has 14 1/2 sacks in 17 career games. And speaking of career numbers, cornerback Champ Bailey is third among active players with 50 interceptions, trailing only Ed Reed (59) and Charles Woodson (55).
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
Though it's his first time against them in a new uniform, Manning has a long history of success against the Texans, winning 16 of 18 career games while completing 452-of-642 passes (70.4 percent) for 5,122 yards and 42 touchdowns, his most against any opponent. He's thrown just eight interceptions and posted a 110.6 passer rating over those games as well. Manning is also one 300-yard passing game from eclipsing Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the league's all-time leader in that category, with both players having 63. Another veteran, running back Willis McGahee, has averaged 80.9 rushing yards per game in 17 career contests with the Broncos and had the 31st 100-yard game of his career last week against Atlanta. He's fourth in the league since 2004 with 61 touchdowns and has gone for 117 and 112 yards in two of his three career games against Houston. Among Manning's air weapons, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas tied a career-best with eight catches last week and aims for a third straight game in 2012 with a touchdown reception. Wideout Brandon Stokley has five career touchdown catches against Houston, while tight end Joel Dreessen spent five seasons with the Texans from 2007 to 2011 before signing with the Broncos this offseason.
The Texans' renaissance on defense continues in year two with coordinator Wade Phillips, whose unit is even with the Broncos and second in the AFC with six sacks through two games. Toward that end, lineman J.J. Watt has 1 1/2 sacks through two games thus far, and fellow end Antonio Smith has 30 1/2 for his career in that category.
The Texans have been here before - a chance to position themselves firmly among the league's elite - but most of the previous trips have ended in disappointment. It seems different this time, though, as the offense has developed a more varied approach and the defense appears able to clamp down no matter the foe. Manning presents a bigger test than the Dolphins and Jags, but it says here Houston passes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 20, Broncos 16
09/20 17:08:01 ET