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Texans-Broncos Monday Night Football Preview: Five More Things to Watch For

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Matt Weston gives you five more things to watch while the Texans play the Broncos on Monday night.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

You will find this out shortly as I present to you a mausoleum of despair. I am not excited for this football game. The Texans have a very bad offense. The Broncos have a very good defense. The last time the Texans played a game like this, they went down 24-0 and wasted everyone’s Sunday afternoon. I was taken for a fool once and spent time laying on the floor, rubbing the knots out of my back, wasting the faded bronze October light. I don’t think I’m going to let this happen this time.

I think I’m going to go see a band called Teenage Battle Rocket before a band called Elway instead, and then I’m going to watch the condensed version of this game. Take my life of Texans fandom away. Burn my FULLER V shirtsey. Snort whatever you want off my Derek Carr rookie card. Yank the memories of J.J. Watt out of my brain. Say mean things about Andre Johnson. I don’t care.

HIT IT.

1.) Bad Offense Meets Great Defense

Sit in this chair I have laid in front of you. Have a seat. Would you like anything to drink? No? Okay. Are you sure? Okay. I brought you here to talk about Sunday night. That night, the Texans scored nine points on their first nine possessions and were down by 14 to Indianapolis with a little more than seven minutes remaining. They held the Colts to one first down from that point onward and scored 17 unanswered to win the game. The Texans did to the Colts the Colts always do to the Texans. As a fan, I thought it was rad and loved every second of the Texans doubting comeback. As a football writer analyzing this stuff, it was a terrible, simply despicable game.

In case you didn’t know, the Colts have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They are old. They are slow. They can’t cover. They are the worst tackling team in the league. They can’t rush the passer. They have only one good player, Vontae Davis; the rest of their players probably wouldn’t start on half of the teams in this league.

Dubious about short subjective statements? Fine. Here are some numbers. The Colts had the oldest defense in the NFL last year with an average age of 28.6 years and kept around the same old fogies. They have missed 59 tackles, worst in the league, and have a missed tackle rate of 13.5%, also last in the league. They have the 29th ranked pass defense according to DVOA. They have 8 sacks, their adjusted sack rate is 3.6% (30th), and their pressure rate is 10.4% (29th).

So yeah, the Texans scoring 17 points on their last three possessions was cool, fun, and awesome, but Houston was downright awful for the first 53 minutes against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The last three possessions should have been the majority of the game. As a result, the talk that the light bulbs just went off, flashing gold like this fat slice of tangerine moon I can’t take my eyes off of, that this offense hit a turning point is hysterical to me. The Texans were awful against an awful defense before the Colts let them dink and dunk, Lamar Miller broke five tackles, and Brock Osweiler made two good throws.

This week all that momentum is going to have to try and move the ball against a team that’s ranked 4th in DVOA, not 31st. The last time Houston played a defense like this, it took them until 1:59 was remaining in the second quarter to get a first down not gained by penalties. They had five three and outs. They abandoned the run and Brock Osweiler had to throw a lot. Osweiler had a completion percentage of 45.3% and averaged just 4.38 yards an attempt. It was the worst Texans’ offensive performance I can remember. I see zero things pointing to why Monday night in Denver should be any better.

2.) Sticking With The Offense

I’m so tired of thinking about or watching Brock Osweiler. I spilled my guts. I watched the film. The coaches can do a few things better, but this is on him. He can’t beat default Madden Cover 2. He isn’t making throws. He overreacts to pressure. He throws short instead of to open players down field. All of this was on display against, again, one of the worst defenses in the league. He’s either going to start hitting throws or he isn’t. Until anything changes, I’m done thinking about him.

Lamar Miller, though. Oh boy. He was a revelation against the Colts. He actually broke tackles. He said screw the crappy blocking in front of him that gets zero push and just started cutting everything outside. Again, it was against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and it was against the worst tackling team in the NFL, but he still averaged 6.2 yards a carry on 24 runs. He caught three passes for 29 yards. He scored two (!) touchdowns after crossing the goal line as many times as you or I had the first five weeks.

For Houston to score more than twice during meaningful snaps, excluding all the Bill O’Brien box score fudging, it’s going to have to be via Lamar Miller. The Broncos are great against the pass. They are fourth in DVOA and just 2.0% behind Arizona for first. Brock Osweiler and the Texans have the worst passing DVOA in the NFL. But on the ground, the Broncos have a DVOA of -11.7% (16th) and are giving up 4.0 yards per carry (T-16). The Texans need a great rushing attack. They need Lamar Miller to put together another track on the album instead of just one catchy, six person crafted hook that everyone forgets about once the summer ends.

3.) Make Trevor Siemian Make Plays

Gary Kubiak’s offense is such a fun thing to watch when it is scooting. When the offensive linemen are moving players horizontally and getting hats on hats on hats, when there is a great running back there who makes the right cuts and finds holes that no one ever would think to exist, when the rug is yanked out from under the defense with play-action that looks exactly like the run, it’s a beautiful offense. So much is made of scheme nowadays as outsiders have been able to dive deeper than ever before into the game. But really, it isn’t super important. Execution is. Defenses have known what Kubiak is going to do offensively every year, every game, and he’s still able to put together efficient offenses.

On defense, there are two keys for the Texans on Monday night: Stay disciplined and make Trevor Siemian make plays. In the run game, each defender is going to need to stay in his gap and hold that parcel of land down. Then wait. Wait until C.J. Anderson or Devontae Booker makes his cut, and then abandon everything and swarm the ball. The Texans can’t do that thing where they just bombard the gap and end up bloody and crazed in the backfield. They will never make a play on the ball. The offensive linemen will head to the next defender, and the back can just cut back around them. When play-action is run, the Texans are going to get fooled. It’s impossible not to at times. But the secondary can’t give up wide open throws. They can’t stare into the backfield, lose their man, and let him run down the field wide open.

Siemian has been a below-average quarterback this season. He had one good game against Cincinnati. The main reason why was that he actually hit some throws down field. The other games, he’s been #blessed with dropped interceptions and has been way too risk averse. He dumps off instead of looking down field. Siemian doesn’t want to have to make plays in Broncos’ football games. He’s just trying to control traffic.

Defensively, the Texans need to keep things in front of them and try to turn this into a bone-grinding game. There’s no way the Texans score more than 17 offensive points against this defense. For Houston to win they will have to keep everything close in a box, and then hope the offense can do just enough.

4.) Von Miller Is The Best Miller In This Game

Man, I miss J.J. Watt. It’s weird watching football and not being able to zero in on the greatest defensive player of all time. With him gone, Von Miller has taken over the role as best defensive player in the league. In 2016, Miller has 8 hurries (T-10), 10 quarterback hits, 7.5 sacks (2), and 4 tackles for a loss. This past offseason, Miller was paid like a quarterback after having the greatest defensive postseason I have ever seen. Football is a team sport, but what Miller did last year in the playoffs was the closest a defensive player has ever come to winning a championship on his own.

Von Miller Post season

Sometimes when I’m driving or waiting in line at the grocery store or doing whatever and keeping my phone in my pocket, enjoying the time in between, I will laugh to myself and think about how great Von Miller was in last year’s postseason.

He’s taken that postseason performance and extended it into the 2016 season. With his track record and no Watt, if he leads the league in sacks, Von Miller will probably win Defensive Player of the Year.

In this game, when the Texans are on offense, I’m watching Von Miller take on Duane Brown and Derek Newton. In run defense, Miller’s great at playing low and exploding up and into the offensive lineman to crash runs back to the inside. With the lineman backwards and hanging on, Miller can easily slip off and chase down outside runs. In pass rushing situations, he’s bouncing out of himself and is on the verge of explosion before the ball is snapped. He’s a spring about to pop. He consistently gets to the edge and uses rips to yank off. When linemen start getting used to that, he will bring a hurricane of a spin move. Then once the tackle begins to start playing on his toes to try to get to the point of attack in a hurry, Miller will drive through them on the bull rush. This is how a player his size is able to drive men who outweigh him by fifty to seventy pounds.

I’m excited to see how Brown and Newton hold up against Miller. Especially Brown, since he has only played two games so far this year. More than anything, I’m excited to watch the best defensive player in the game play every snap and fill that void left by Watt’s injury.

5.) Narratives

Did you know that Gary Kubiak was the head coach of the Houston Texans? Did you know he was fired during the 2013 season despite having the most wins in franchise history? Did you know that Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator during the peak Texans years of 2011 and 2012? Did you know that Phillips was the interim head coach of the Texans in 2013 and they didn’t even interview him for the head coaching position? Did you know that Phillips didn’t work at all in 2014? Did you know that he joined forces with Kubiak in Denver again last year and won a Super Bowl? Did you know that Brock Osweiler was the quarterback for a spat of the season once Peyton Manning threw five interceptions in a game and was “injured”? Did you know Osweiler was benched for Manning? Did you know Osweiler spurned Denver for Houston and took more money to play for the Texans? Did you know that he’s been really bad this year and everyone in Denver is smiling even though they wanted him the entire time?

None of that means anything. There is only one narrative here that matters: Shiloh Keo is taking on his old team. The Flying Keo himself will be back and looking to smash skulls and batter brains on special teams. He never forgave the Texans for cutting him. He gave everything to the franchise. He played better than Ed Reed did at safety when he replaced him. And what did the Texans do to him? They fired him. They cut him like a walk through the woods in shorts.

And what did Keo do? He won a championship. He locked down Rob Gronkowski on the last play of the AFC Championship Game. That was fun. Keo liked that. But this game. This is Shiloh Keo’s personal Super Bowl. This is the climatic scene in his redemption story. Now is the time Shiloh Keo will get his revenge.

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