*Here are Five Things to Watch when the Texans face the Broncos on Saturday night (8 p.m. CT on ABC-13/KTRK) in Denver.
1. Who's In, Who's Out: For the second week in a row, the Texans have practiced against another team. And they've practiced hard.
Last week against the Falcons, and this week in Denver versus the Broncos, Houston suited up and
worked against their opponent. Because of that, a slew of starters got quality reps, some to the tune of a game-and-a-half when you add it all together.
With that in mind, don't be surprised if stars like J.J. Watt, Duane Brown and company don't actually play against the Broncos.
"We've gotten a lot of work out here in the three days," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "That's what's different then in the past. In the past, when you didn't work against a team, you would certainly want to probably have your first teams go in the third game of the preseason. But when you come out here, yesterday we ran 60 team plays against each other, the day before the same thing, today about probably 40 team plays against each other."
General manager Rick Smith agreed, and emphasized that "the focus is to line up in September when it counts."
However, running back Arian Foster might get some action after suiting up for practice in Denver. He didn't have to absorb as much physical contact as the offensive and defensive linemen did during the week of practice.
2. Extracurriculars- A flag, or two, or more for unsportsmanlike conduct is a near certainty for Saturday night.
The Texans and Broncos got quality work in against each other, and they also got in some shoving matches as well. Safety D.J. Swearinger picked off Peyton Manning near the end of Wedensday's practice in full pads, and a few moments later, the two squads met in the middle of the field with some choice words.
Earlier that day, Watt manhandled Denver right tackle Chris Clark in a 1-on-1 drill, and Clark ripped Watt's helmet off, drawing a flag. On Thursday, Watt continuously embarrassed the Broncos offensive linemen, and they began taking cheap shots. Expect some of that to carry over into the game, but don't expect Watt to ever be an instigator.
"I don't really get into in to fights," Watt said. "That's why when somebody hits me, I don't feel the need to hit back because you can turn on the film, see what happened."
3. Bullock vs. Boswell- The kicking competition between Randy Bullock and Chris Boswell continues, with Bullock holding the advantage.
"I'd say Randy is in the lead," O'Brien said. "Randy has made some good kicks. He kicked decently in the game last week and made a game winner out here today (Thursday), so I'd say he's in the lead right now."
Boswell missed a pair of extra points in the win over the Falcons, but O'Brien said the battle for the spot is far from over.
Both, as well as punter Shane Lechler, will likely benefit from the thinner mountain air.
4. QB Progress- How much each of the three quarterbacks play is unknown, but O'Brien wants to see them continue to move the offense efficiently.
Twice last week, starter Ryan Fitzpatrick guided the Texans on touchdown drives. Backup Case
Keenum and rookie Tom Savage have yet to get the offense into the end zone. But Fitzpatrick said Wednesday that the practices against Denver have been beneficial, and O'Brien thinks his signal caller's execution is improving.
"It was better," O'Brien said. "Again, I don't think it's where it needs to be yet."
5. Pass Rush- Numerous Texans not named Watt or Jadeveon Clowney were able to put pressure on the quarterback last week in the win at home. Lawrence Sidbury got a sack. Quentin Groves and Whitney Mercilus penetrated into the backfield.
Whether or not the Texans can generate a pass rush against Peyton Manning and company will go a long way in determining how long the secondary can hold up against one of the NFL's premier passing attacks.