HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 11: Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills #10 throws a pass against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Game Preview: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos

The Matchup:

Houston Texans (0-0-1) vs Denver Broncos (0-1)

Game Time: Sunday, September 18, 3:25p CT

TV/Radio: CBS / KILT 610AM

What’s at stake: Both teams are coming off disappointing performances and are looking for their first win. The Texans surrendered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and ultimately settled for a 20-20 tie in Week 1 with Indianapolis. Fortunately for the Texans, no team in the AFC South recorded a win in Week 1. The Broncos lost two fumbles on the Seahawks ‘ yard line on consecutive drives in the second half en route to a one-point loss to Seattle. Denver plays in the extremely competitive AFC West, where the Kansas City Chiefs are already 2-0.

When the Texans have the ball: Texans head coach Lovie Smith has stated he wants to get the ball to rookie RB Dameon Pierce more. Expect to see another split share of reps between Pierce and veteran Rex Burkhead, whom the coaching staff clearly trusts more right now. TE OJ Howard had two big touchdown receptions last week; look for him to become a bigger part of the offense moving forward as he gets more acclimated to the playbook. Brandin Cooks is Davis Mills’ primary outside receiving target.

When the Broncos have the ball: Their two-headed RB system of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams is an elite duo. Both are strong runners and can be a part of the passing game, especially Williams, who had 11 receptions last week. Russell Wilson is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league, and his mobility makes him tough to bring down. Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton are a formidable pair of receivers.

Key Texans to Watch:

RB Dameon Pierce: Pierce said all the right things when asked about his lack of playing time last week. He has shown a positive attitude and desire to learn. He is also clearly the team’s best back. Lovie Smith has said he wants to get Pierce more touches all week, but it remains to be seen if that actually happens.

C Scott Quessenberry: Quessenberry will draw the start at center with Justin Britt away from the team. He was given extensive run at the position in preseason action. The Texans’ offensive line came completely undone in the fourth quarter and overtime last week, and center is a key position on the line. The Texans’ success in running the ball and their ability to stay in sync will be significantly affected by Quessenberry’s play in either direction.

TE OJ Howard: Howard made a massive impact in limited action last week, securing both of his targets for touchdowns. He has another week of practice under his belt, and TE Brevin Jordan is listed as questionable this week after he was a limited participant in practice twice and did not practice on Thursday. Howard should be ready and able to take on more work this weekend in Denver.

QB Davis Mills: Mills was solid for three quarters but seemed to be rattled after the EJ Speed sack and fumble last week. He needs to show that the fourth-quarter offensive collapse is behind him, and he can execute the offense in a hostile environment, or this game could get out of hand on the Texans.

The Bottom Line: The Texans are a rebuilding team with some interesting, high-ceiling young players but not much depth. The Broncos are a team with playoff expectations and Super Bowl aspirations after trading for and then handing a large contract to QB Russell Wilson. This game will be a tough test for the Texans, who will be on the road for the first time this season, playing at high altitude in a very loud building against a well-balanced opponent. Even if they can just be competitive in this contest, it would show a lot about where the Texans are in their process. If they can at least stay close, it would be two weeks in a row that the Texans would show competitively against better teams in the AFC and help cleanse the palate of the 17-point fourth-quarter collapse from last week.

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