The Texans will once again try to break new ground this weekend in Denver when they attempt to pull into a tie for first place in the AFC South at the halfway mark of the season.
Why not? The Texans are exorcising all kinds of demons this year. After not being able to win consecutive games in their first 34 games in franchise history, they have won consecutive games twice in their last five games. The Texans have won two division games in two attempts this year. It took them two years to win two division games before this season. So why not go for the first three-game win streak in franchise history? Why do I feel like it's achievable? Maybe it's because the pressure is all on Denver.
Denver started out the season white-hot. The running game was clicking, the defense was hitting, and Jake Plummer was on target. Sitting at 5-1 on top of the AFC West, all was well.
Then came Cincinnati.
Then came Atlanta.
The Broncos are in the midst of a two-game losing streak that started on Prime Time against a fired up Bengals team and continued last week at Mile High against a rejuvenated Mike Vick and the Falcons.
I spent some time reading Denver newspapers and Broncos message boards this week and the natives are definitely restless. The last thing the Broncos and their fans want to do is go into their open week with a three-game losing streak. That's why it's going to be tough for the Texans at Mile High on Sunday. The Broncos are backed into a corner and they are going to fight hard to get out of it. But whether they admit it or not, Broncos players and fans are feeling a bit of pressure. Watch out for those cut blocks, guys.
Atlanta was successful against the Broncos because they took away an essential element of Mike Shanahan's attack -- Reuben Droughns and the running game. The Falcons defense held Droughns to 49 yards on only 15 carries and forced the Broncos into an all-out passing attack that put up record setting numbers but also made a lot of mistakes.
Broncos fans don't appear to be totally sold on quarterback Jake Plummer even though he broke the club record with 499 passing yards last week. Imagine how difficult it must be to follow in the footsteps of John Elway where everything you do is held to that standard.
Even though Plummer threw for record yardage against Atlanta, he was plagued for the second week in a row by interceptions – he's thrown five in the last two weeks – making it notable that the Texans lead the NFL with 11 interceptions. Speaking of turnovers, the Texans have pulled even in turnover differential after digging themselves a hole with a minus-6 start in their two losses to San Diego and Detroit. The Broncos are near the bottom of the league with a minus-7 turnover difference and that is one of the causes for the frustration among fans at Mile High. But, even though Plummer has struggled a bit in recent weeks, the Broncos have big play potential with wide receivers Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie, and Darius Watts ready to test the Texans DBs deep.
The Broncos defense has had its share of problems as well giving up nearly 800 yards in the last two games against the Bengals and Falcons. One of the biggest problems has been the absence of a pass rush in both games. Against a scrambler like Vick, it's somewhat understandable since the d-linemen had to worry about containment as much or more than straight ahead rushing but even Carson Palmer, who is about as mobile as Drew Bledsoe, was able to stand in the pocket and at times pick apart the Broncos secondary two weeks ago. The Broncos have been saying all week that one of the keys to the game is their ability to put lots of pressure on David Carr. Likewise, that's a key to the game for the Texans. If the Texans o-line is able to protect like it did last week, I would expect Carr and his group of talented receivers to have a big day, even with Champ Bailey roaming the secondary.
The Broncos may be without star safety John Lynch who was injured last week and standout defensive end Trevor Pryce will probably remain out of action for two more weeks.
The Texans will need a complete game from the offense, defense and special teams to win this one. Domanick Davis seems to be forever nicked up and running tentatively, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry this season. That will have to improve if the Texans are going to be successful.
The Texans passing attack has been outstanding and David Carr has been *en el fuego *the past few games, hitting a high percentage of his passes - many for big gains – with few interceptions (knock on wood).
The Texans defense is finally starting to gel, stopping drives and making big plays. After a terrible start, both the run defense and pass defense has stepped it up. They will need to continue their high level of performance this week against Plummer, Droughns, and the Broncos capable wide outs.
The Texans enter this game 4-3 and with a win will be tied for first in the AFC South with Jacksonville and possibly Indianapolis, who the Texans face on the road next week. It's the start of a three-game set that could very well define the Texans' entire season. Winning two out of the next three means the Texans are legitimate playoff contenders and are seriously in the mix for a division title. Winning one of the next three means they will still be within reach of the wild card with six games remaining. We won't talk about the other extremes.
Sunday will mark my first visit to Mile High and I am really looking forward to it. There's going to be a lot of Texans fans in the house from what I'm hearing so hopefully we will have a lot to cheer about as we watch the Texans attempt to break more new ground. As a fan, one of the most exciting things you can do is watch a game from the stands. Visiting other stadiums adds a whole new dimension to the excitement of watching the NFL as you cheer your team while surrounded by enemy fans. It's a hoot. Everyone ought to try it at least once. See you at the game.
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