Bijani: What to watch for as Texans face Broncos in Denver


(SportsRadio 610) - The Texans are trying to get their first win of the season visiting the Denver Broncos in week two. They tied with the Indianapolis Colts in week one, after blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead.

Here are some things to watch for in Sunday's matchup with the Broncos, which you can hear live on SportsRadio 610, starting with the pregame show at noon.

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Mills in the pocket

Davis Mills spread the ball around quite a bit in week one, but admitted following last Sunday's game he needs to improve on finishing his progressions and finding the time to do it.

Look for Mills to make it a point to step up in the pocket more when the defense collapses, become more mobile to help the offensive line out in pass protection, finish his progressions and find open receivers.

Mills struggled on shorter throws in week one. He worked quite a bit on high and low ball placement during the early portion of Friday’s practice, but will need to correct that in Denver and be more efficient. Watch how fast Mills is able to get the ball out against Denver. He was the second fastest quarterback in the league week one.

Offensive line

Texans starting center Justin Britt missed three days of practice with a non-injury related absence. The team said it is personal matter and he's officially been ruled out for a Sunday's game.

Fifth-year pro Scott Quessenberry will start in Britt's place as the offensive line, a work in progress, hopes to have worked out the miscommunications prevalent against Indianapolis.

Keep an eye on the pass protection, blitz pick-up and the run blocking.

The Texans struggled to establish the running game, averaging just 2.8 yards per attempt on 27 carries. They also failed to protect Mills late in the game, surrendering three sacks in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined.

The Broncos' defensive front is probably looking at Britt's absence and trying to figure out how to exploit Quessenberry, who has only started at center twice in the last two seasons.

Justin McCray also likely is a point of emphasis for Denver this week, as the veteran left guard allowed five pressures week one, splitting time with rookie Kenyon Green.

Green looks to take another step

Green played 54% of the offensive snaps last week. Green debuted in the Texans third offensive series, replacing McCray, which proved their most fruitful drive of the afternoon. The Texans held the ball for nearly six and a half minutes, driving 69 yards in 14 plays for a 45-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn.

Expect an increase in playing time this weekend given the success he’s had run blocking with Dameon Pierce running the football and his improved pass protection.

Get involved

Davis Mills targeted 11 different receivers against the Colts, completing passes to nine of the them.

Brandin Cooks was again the Texans' leading receiver with 82 yards on seven catches. Second-year pro Nico Collins caught two of his three targets but was neglected for much of the game.

Texans head coach Lovie Smith said it was a combination of Mills not finishing his progressions, Collins inability to get open enough and the play calling that contributed to his lack of targets.

One of the newest Texans, tight end O.J. Howard, made an immediate impact last weekend, catching two touchdowns. The Texans believe Howard’s versatility allows offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to utilize different personnel groupings more and is a big, physical target for Mills.

Hamilton showed last Sunday he’s not afraid to get creative. Also, Tyler Johnson has been working hard with Mills, so he may be ready to contribute in Denver.

Patience paying off

Pierce captured everyone’s attention in the preseason with his quick, decisive and explosive running style.

After carrying the ball 11 times for 33 yards and playing just 29% of the snaps against the Colts, Smith said Pierce will get more chances in Denver.

Pierce, understanding Hamilton’s reasoning for limiting his snap count against the Colts, said he’d be patient and work on things he knows he needs to improve on, like his responsibilities away from the ball in blitz pick up and pass blocking.

The Broncos' run defense allowed 76 yards on 19 carries against Seattle Monday night, doing a serviceable job, but don’t have the run fillers in the secondary they’d like. That could be something to watch Sunday afternoon with Pierce getting more carries for the Texans.

Rushing Wilson

The Texans sacked Colts quarterback Matt Ryan twice and hit him seven times in week one.

However, the defense surrendered three consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter, allowing Ryan to complete 9-of-15 passes during that stretch.

Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, always a threat with his legs to run and/or extend plays, threw two touchdowns and completed 60% of his passes in Seattle's 33-13 win over the Texans last season.

The Texans' front will have to be disciplined to not over pursue Wilson in the backfield Sunday.

Look for the Texans to try and get Wilson outside of the pocket to his left. Historically, Wilson hasn’t faired well going to his left and it’s a game plan the Seahawks used Monday night.

Rasheem Green is expected to return for the Texans this week after dealing with a thigh injury that kept him out against the Colts. That should help bolster Houston's pass rush.

Green has seen plenty of Wilson, too, playing in Seattle the previous four seasons.

Secondary thoughts

Rookies Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley Jr. would be hard pressed to play against two more polished quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson, within their first two weeks of being in the NFL.

Both players were on the field for all of the defenses 92 snaps against the Colts.

Smith is expecting that to change.

While the game dictates personnel groupings much of the time, Smith did say he believes 92 snaps is too many and will look to rotate players more at all positions in Denver.

Broncos receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Judy combined for 14 targets and eight catches in their week one loss to the Seahawks. Wilson is reportedly gaining some chemistry with Judy, and Sutton was the Broncos' leading receiver last year.

Against the Colts, Stingley Jr. allowed 86 yards on six catches while being targeted nine times. Two of those misses were drops, including one for a touchdown by Alec Pierce. Stingley also had a key pass breakup in the end zone, preventing a touchdown.

Expect Wilson to repeatedly test a young Texans secondary with motion and play action to take shots down the field.

Shaun Bijani has spent the last 16 years covering the Houston sports scene for SportsRadio 610. Follow him on Twitter @ShaunBijani.

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