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Deep Steel Blueprint: The Most Manningful Of Games (So Far)


Before, it was Peyton Manning and the Colts (more like Peyton and the Manningettes). His neck injury would give way to the Manningless Colts. Now, we have the ongoing discussion about Old Peyton and New Peyton.

Version not withstanding, Peyton is on the mind of Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Sunday should be a very fun chess match between two bright football minds in that regard. However, old or new Peyton, the offense still needs to score points. Beating a Peyton Manning-led team is going to require a touchdown or two (or three).

While not the main event, the match between offensive-minded Houston head coach Gary Kubiak and his defensive Denver counterpart, John Fox, could be equally as entertaining. This is where we will focus the Deep Steel Blueprint for Week Three as we look at what Houston will contend with on Sunday.

Here is an obligatory pre-jump warning about small sample sizes still ruling the day. Here is a comment asking you to click the jump.

I lied. We need to start with a little talk about special teams.
We have all seen Trindon Holliday’s struggles with kick returns the past two weeks. He has bobbled the ball and, inexplicably, brought kicks out of the end zone when he’s been seven or eight yards deep. This has resulted in him being caught at the 15-yard-line a lot. The offense has not had the best starting field position despite having the dedicated specialist. The offense’s only good field position has come when the defense has helped them flip the field position through three-and-outs. Houston, according to Football Outsiders, is outgaining people per drive by about a 2-to-1 ratio.

The defense can also complain about the 20th best starting field position. A short field led to the only touchdown they allowed, and Peyton Manning does not need any help finding an end zone. Donnie Jones and Shayne Graham will need to take advantage of the thin air to boot the ball a few extra yards, especially if it keeps the coverage units from not maintaining their leg integrity and "tackling."

Joe Marciano’s group cannot put this team in the hole against the better NFL teams. In games like this one, any little advantage could haunt the Texans and poor field position is not what either unit needs on Sunday.

What to make of the Denver Run Defense? Are they impenetrable like the Rocky Mountains or is this an altitude-induced mirage?
If you were a sheep, you would look at Football Outsiders or the NFL’s team stats and see the following:

-- -46.7% DVOA against the run, second-best in the NFL.
-- 71.0 rushing yards allowed per game, seventh-best in the NFL.

You would then likely assume that Denver’s run defense was akin to the Rocky Mountains against that first wave of westward settlers. Spoiler alert: People struggled to get across the mountains.

Yet, it isn’t like Denver has faced any Gerents of the Ground. They have faced Pittsburgh and Atlanta. These are two teams that are near the worst in the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per game.

You may remember Pittsburgh from such comments as "That OL? More like LOL!" or "That line is the sux0r." Without Rashad Mendenhall, Pittsburgh’s running back position is not exactly gleaming with talent either. Pittsburgh is also an offense that seems content to have Ben Roethlisberger throw 35-plus times while taking four-plus sacks.

On the other hand, there is Atlanta. Not only is their offense built to pass with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White, but the running back is a 30-year-old coming off back-to-back 300-plus carry seasons. Despite being 2-0 and in position to run down the clock in both games, Atlanta’s still in the bottom-third of rushing attempts.

Don't get me wrong, Denver’s speedy enough to fill holes and a good tackling team, but they have not faced a run-oriented team like the Texans. I fully expect Coach Kubiak to come out early and give this run defense
its first real test by really unleashing the zone-stretch.

Dat Boy Von.
As a defense, Denver has a total of six sacks. Half of those sacks come from DeSoto, Texas’ own Von Miller. The man will be a handful whether he lines up on left tackle Duane Brown or right tackle Derek Newton. My guess is that Newton will see A LOT of Miller as defensive guru John Fox tries to test the young right tackle with Miller’s explosive quickness.

Another way Miller may alter the game plan is in bootleg passes. Given his speed, I do not know how confident I feel about Kubiak’s patented zone-stretch bootleg. Given how it builds off the run, I know the bootleg will show up a few times, but I would not be surprised if they all resulted in Miller sacks, Miller forces Matt Schaub to throw it away, or Schaub dumps it off to the receiver in the flats. If someone does not get their backside cut on Miller, it will spell major trouble.

However, and this is not to discredit Miller’s prodigious talent, but two of his sacks, along with three of Denver’s others, did come against notorious play-extender/ball-holder-onner Big Ben. Yes, he is a truck to bring down, but he also does not get rid of the ball.

Miller did get his against Atlanta and Matt Ryan, but, for the large part, Ryan was comfortable in the pocket and able to make throws with little pressure in his face. If Houston can keep Schaub comfortable then, like Ryan, he should have no trouble finding his big play wide receiver or tight end. Owen Daniels, to single out a name, could have a similar game to what Tony Gonzalez did on Monday night (seven receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown). It also could be a big day for the Human Swiss Army Knife, a/k/a James Casey, as I do not believe Denver’s linebackers can keep up with him in coverage, based on what I have seen these past two weekends.

Seeing Atlanta dominate Denver offensively was a welcome sign heading into this week’s game. Unlike Atlanta, I think Houston’s far more balanced and tougher to defend. If the Texans can get some decent starting field position and neutralize Von Miller, a task way easier said than done, I think it could be a big day at the office for the offense.

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