Published September 17, 2012
HOUSTON – The Houston Texans have made it look easy so far, opening with a pair of 20-point victories.
The Texans (2-0) will get a more intriguing test this week, when they face old nemesis Peyton Manning in Denver.
It's also a homecoming of sorts for Houston coach Gary Kubiak, who backed up John Elway with the Broncos from 1983-91 and later worked on Denver's staff under Mike Shanahan. Houston lost 24-23 in Denver in 2010, when Tim Tebow was the Broncos' quarterback.
Now it's Manning, who owns a 16-2 record against the Texans from his days with Indianapolis. The four-time MVP sat out last season to recover from neck surgery, while the Texans and their resurgent defense took over the division that Manning and the Colts used to own.
Houston's defense hasn't missed a beat in 2012, stifling its first two opponents. The Texans forced four turnovers in an opening 30-10 win over Miami, then held Jacksonville to 117 yards, a record-low for a Houston opponent, in a 27-7 rout Sunday. Jacksonville gained only nine first downs and went 0 for 9 on third down.
Another bonus? The defense barely broke a sweat, playing fewer than 17 minutes because of how efficiently the offense controlled the clock.
The Texans rushed for only 83 yards in the opener, but produced 216 yards on a team-record 48 rushes in Jacksonville. Arian Foster ran for 110 yards, Ben Tate rushed for 74 and the Texans held the ball for 43 minutes, 17 seconds, a franchise record for time of possession.
Houston's 83 offensive plays was also a team record for a regulation game. Kubiak caught the Jaguars off-guard with a "sugar huddle," a variation of a no-huddle offense.
"We wanted to push the tempo of the game," Kubiak said. "We wanted to come out of the game with more snaps than we may normally average in a game, so we tried to push the tempo that way. You go into every week with an idea of what you think it's going to take to win that game, so it was just a mindset going into that particular game. It's something we're capable of doing all the time, so hopefully we can gain some confidence in it."
Kubiak also continued to explore the Texans' depth on both sides of the ball. Rookie Ben Jones rotated with right guard Antoine Caldwell, Garrett Graham got more snaps backing up tight end Owen Daniels, and Tim Jamison and rookie Jared Crick earned some time on the defensive line.
Andre Johnson had a quiet game, with only three catches for 21 yards. Kubiak didn't see any reason to overuse Johnson with the way the Texans ran the ball.
"I promise you, there's nobody any happier than Andre about the way we won," Kubiak said. "I know he'd like to catch a bunch of balls, but he likes to win, too."
As dominant as the Texans have been, Kubiak has concerns as he gets ready for the Broncos.
Houston's special teams units were shaky for the second straight week. Trindon Holliday averaged 12.8 yards on six punt returns, including a 36-yarder, but he also fumbled a punt out of bounds. The Texans were also penalized for illegal blocks on three punts.
"We've got some issues that we've got to get straightened out that are really going to hurt us," Kubiak said. "We had numerous penalties that hurt us in the return game, so that's a big point of emphasis."
And for the second straight game, the Texans hit a lull in the third quarter and gave up points. In the opener, Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown shortly after halftime. In Jacksonville, Mike Thomas returned a punt 18 yards to the Houston 37, leading to the Jaguars' lone touchdown.
"We had a sequence there where we let a team right back in the game, when we were getting after 'em pretty good," Kubiak said. "So that's a good reminder — we need to come out of the locker room better in the second half."
Still, the Texans are 2-0 for the third straight season. They've never been 3-0, and they're 0-6 in their third game since Kubiak became the coach in 2006.
"These two (wins) are behind us, and it's time to start looking forward," Kubiak said. "We know we've got a huge test coming down there, with Peyton leading the way for them and the type of player he is. They're an extremely talented team, a young, talented team playing very good defense. Probably as strong a team as there is out there right now, so it'll be a big test for us."