The buzz is about a quarterback who turned his back on the Super Bowl champions and sought his NFL fortunes in the Lone Star State.
Six games into this season, these truths are most evident: Osweiler has struggled to prove himself worthy of his $72 million contract while the Broncos are still one of the NFL’s elite defenses. So what can the Texans do?
The most obvious answer is rely upon running back Lamar Miller.
While Osweiler was experiencing familiar issues for much of last weekend’s game against Indianapolis, it was Miller who resurrected the Texans with 149 yards rushing. He scored a touchdown rushing and another on a pass reception. The Texans pulled off a stunning late rally on Osweiler’s 2 TD passes, but Miller put his team in position to pull off a 26-23 overtime victory against the Colts.
Now look at that Denver defense. The Broncos are No. 1 against the pass at just 182.3 yards allowed and lead the league in sacks with 21. Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller has 7.5 sacks. Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib has 3 of the team’s 5 interceptions.
But Denver is just 22nd in run defense at 112.7 yards per game. Common sense suggests if the Texans are going to have any chance in this game, it will depend more upon if Miller can thrive as the focal point.
“I mean, I always have confidence in myself,” Miller said Wednesday. “I go in each game with the same mindset, and that’s to make plays.”
Miller’s 520 rushing yards rank fifth in the league, but the fifth-year pro is on pace for a career season in his first year with the Texans. Extrapolate his numbers for an entire season and he would finish with 1,387 yards rushing, which would shatter his previous best of 1,099 in 2014.
“He does a good job understanding the blocking scheme and with a zone vision,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said of Miller. “He starts one way and he has the ability to stick his foot in the ground and get to the right crease. He’s a really good player. Really glad that we have him on our team. Fun guy to coach. Like I said, he’s out there every day, works very hard and he’s been a really productive player for us.”
Osweiler hasn’t been, just yet. The Texans offense ranks 27th in total yards (327.7 per game) and 30th in points scored (18 per game). The fifth-year quarterback’s passer rating of 74.1 ranks 29th.
“Any time that you can build on production, I think it carries over,” Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey said of Osweiler making plays late against the Colts. “It’s a momentum game. It’s certainly a different opponent, so our game plan is going to have to be detailed and he’s going to have to understand, which he does, the personnel, but also what we need to be efficient on offense. The success he had in the hardest situation should carry over to the next game.”
The Texans are 10th in rushing at 111.2 yards per game. Miller credits his offensive line for giving him room to run, but realizes it could be tougher sledding against the Broncos as opposed to the Colts, who have the league’s 30th-ranked defense.
“They have a good front seven,” Miller said of the Broncos. “Their whole defense is pretty much good so we just have to come out, play our style of play and we should be good.”
The Texans have yet to play their style in two lopsided road losses, 27-0 at New England and 34-13 at Minnesota. At home, they’re 4-0 and were able to gain yards in bunches against the Colts, especially after falling behind by 10 points in the first half.
“We had eight plays over 10 yards – a couple of them that got called back, too,” Godsey said of Miller. “When you’re in space and you get past that first level, making that next defender miss. He did that quite a few times. Some of those big plays over 15 yards were not only just the receivers downfield but also him creating some extra lanes there to get a few more extra yards.”
Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn quadriceps, returned to the lineup for the last two games. The right side of the line could have starters Derek Newton and Jeff Allen back in the lineup, which means Monday would be the first time the Texans have a healthy offensive line.
“Every week I want to help Brock be successful,” Brown said. “But, you know, he’s playing against his former team so you know of course he’s going to want to put up a big game. We just have to do a good job protecting him and letting him do his job.”
But it should start first with creating run lanes for Miller.
“That’s what everybody dreams of growing up, playing ‘Monday Night Football,’” Miller said. “You’re the only game on TV. The whole world is watching and I’m pretty much excited.”