Broncos must be wary of Texans trap

The trap is set.

Houston’s Texans are the bait, the Denver Broncos the target.

If ever there was a “trap game,” today’s game in Houston is it.

Sure, we all know the Texans are terrible, winning their first two, losing their past dozen.

And we know if the 11-3 Broncos win their final two games everything is set up the way it should be — bring one, bring all to playoff games in Denver through January!

No problem, right?

Check this out:

The Texans stunk it up last week against the Colts, losing 25-3. They aren’t the first team to struggle under the dome at Indianapolis (you might remember Peyton Manning’s return to Indy earlier in the season and Denver’s first loss).

Prior to that game, however, the Texans weren’t exactly rolling over and playing dead. Scores of their games over the previous two months in reverse chronological order (is there such a thing?): 27-20, 34-31, 13-6, 28-23, 27-24, 27-24 (again) and 17-16.

Yes, they lost them all, resulting in the firing of coach Gary Kubiak two weeks ago, the same Kubiak who had suffered a mini-stroke only weeks before that.

Tough times in Houston, but this team is still dangerous.

Ask the New England Patriots. They trailed the Texans by 10 at halftime and the lead changed hands five times in the second half. Patriot kicker Steven Gostkowski kicked two late 53-yard field goals for the 34-31 win.

Ask the Chiefs, who had to rely on a late Tamba Hali sack and strip of quarterback Case Keenum, who was starting his first game, to win 17-16 in Kansas City.

Ask the Arizona Cardinals about a game in Phoenix when the Cardinals had to stop the Texans twice in the final minutes to hold onto a 27-24 lead.

Yes, the Texans have been close.

It’s just that they keep screwing up when the game is on the line.

That’s why Keenum was playing in the first place, because usual starting quarterback Matt Schaub couldn’t quit throwing interceptions.

Schaub, one of the league’s top-rated passing quarterbacks over the past six seasons, started the first six games for the Texans and threw nine TD passes. But he threw nine interceptions, including four in one game, in those six starts (he also threw one last week).

Kubiak couldn’t handle that and put Keenum in.

Keenum might have been just what the doctor ordered today for Denver’s struggling defense — but he sustained a thumb injury last week and back comes Schaub.

If Schaub gets it right, he has two outstanding wide receivers, Andre Johnson, one of the league’s best for a decade now, and DeAndre Hopkins, the team’s top draft pick and a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. All Johnson has done is catch 99 passes on the season for 1,295 yards and Hopkins has 47 catches for 759 yards.

Most quarterbacks struggle when they are pressured. Not so much so with Schaub this season. He has thrown seven interceptions without significant pressure.

Maybe that will play right into Denver’s hands, with the Broncos struggling to apply pressure on passers.

Bronco fans can only hope the old-style gun-slinging Schaub doesn’t show up today.

A couple of other things should work in Denver’s favor.

For one, Houston’s second-best running back, Ben Tate (Arian Foster was injured more than a month ago), is out for the rest of the season, putting two untested reserves in line for carries, Dennis Johnson and Deji Karim. Johnson has 37 carries on the season, Karim has four.

Advantage, Denver.

The other factor is the sideline, where Wade Phillips is the interim head coach. He’s also the defensive coordinator and very much avoids the offensive side of things.

Kubiak had virtual total control of the offensive scheme and, being ousted, that chore now falls to quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell and line coach Rick Dennison —both former Broncos coaches.

Another advantage Denver.

One more key matchup will be Denver’s offensive line against the best defensive lineman in football, Texan defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt can create havoc all by himself in terms of sacks and his specialty, batting down passes.

Manning will simply have to identify where he is and throw the other direction.

Manning being Manning, the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and the surefire league Most Valuable Player, the Broncos will get it done.

It won’t easy, but I’ll advance to 12-3 on the year picking with or against the Broncos and say Denver wins it, 31-24.


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