In the shadow of Peyton Manning setting records, way off in the background, there was the small matter of a football game between Manning’s Broncos and the Houston Texans. For most of the game this was actually a tight enough affair, but then Manning did what Manning does and tossed another couple of touchdowns as the Broncos cantered off into the distance for the win.
They were helped of course by Houston’s Matt Schaub doing what he does – tossing interceptions – giving them the extra possessions to rack up the score and put the Texans out of the game in the fourth quarter.
Let’s take a look and see who stood out beyond Manning and his record 51 touchdowns on the season.
Denver — Three Performances of Note
With no Wes Welker in the lineup, out with his second concussion in a matter of weeks, the Broncos were left with a decision to make about how to fill that role in the offense. They suggested that it would be a mix of Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme and that’s exactly how it played out. Tamme ran 30 routes from the slot (of 36 total) while Decker ran 26 of his 49 from inside. The difference was simply in production. Tamme was only thrown at three times, catching all of them, but Decker saw 10 targets from his slot snaps, catching six. Decker actually became the primary target in this game with 17 total targets (three more than Demaryius’ 14), catching 10 of them for 131 yards and two scores. The entire receiving corps had a decent day, though, with Manning finishing with 400 yards and four touchdowns. Welker is clearly hugely important to the Denver cause, but Decker at least showed they can survive without him for another week if they wisely decide to keep him under wraps until the playoffs.
Pot Roast Eats
I’m not sure what it was, but Terrance Knighton was virtually unblockable in this game. That’s worth noting in and of itself, but the guy he beat up on for the most part was Chris Myers – arguably the best center in the game, and certainly one of the best. Myers can struggle with power, but it was speed that Knighton was beating him with most often, tossing him aside with swim moves at the snap and making plays in the backfield. His +6.4 grade overall is easily his best mark of the season, and he has now put up +11.3 worth of overall grade in the past two weeks. He did this despite being asked at one stage to drop into coverage on 3rd-and-2 and cover Nuk Hopkins on a crossing route. Needless to say, that did not go well, but near everything else Knighton did in the game was positive.
Dealing with Watt
It’s worth pointing out any time JJ Watt was as quiet as he was in this game that the interior line has probably done a pretty good job. Center Manuel Ramirez (-2.4) and right guard Louis Vasquez (+3.1) did the majority of the heavy lifting in this regard, though Watt moved all over the line and went up against all five guys at one point or other. Ramirez allowed some pressure up the middle, but Vasquez in particular did a fine job limiting one of the best players in the game. Orlando Franklin (-3.5) was the weak link on the offense, allowing the most pressure (five total pressures) and being flagged three times, and he was on the receiving end of JJ Watt playing at 4-3 DE at times. You’ll never entirely shut down a player good enough to be called a ‘game wrecker’ by the Broncos before the game, but this is about as well as you can hope to do against Watt.
Houston — Three Performances of Note
Shiloh Keo made more plays in this game than the Texans ever saw from Ed Reed during his entire (short) tenure with the team. Reed is obviously an all-time great, but the memories of that player are fading ever further given his current level. Keo on the other hand was breaking on the ball incredibly quickly in this game, making tackles and hits on plays he really didn’t have much business being around. His game wasn’t without blemish, however, missing a tackle unblocked on a run up the middle and getting flagged for the inevitable ‘hit on a defenseless receiver’ we see each week these days, but that shouldn’t detract from the ability he did show in his finest game as a pro.
Struggling in Coverage
Johnathan Joseph is a very good corner – when healthy. That’s a standard caveat with a lot of players, but Joseph seems to struggle more than most to ever stay 100%, and his performance dips dramatically when he isn’t. In this game he played 21 snaps before being forced off and was thrown at just once, breaking it up. The rest of the Texans’ D wasn’t nearly as fortunate, or competent, sadly. Kareem Jackson was thrown at 13 times and surrendered eight catches for 126 yards and two scores. He could only get his hands in to break up a single one of those targets. Brice McCain wasn’t any better, matching Jackson’s target and receptions figures on his way to surrendering a score and 73 yards. He also broke up just the lone pass. Darryl Sharpton was the other main victim in coverage, drawing assignments against Decker and Julius Thomas across the middle. He was thrown at eight times, surrendering seven catches for 83 yards and a score – the record-breaker late in the game.
Matt Schaub – Pro Bowler
Ian Eagle seemed on a quest to talk up the Texans’ recent regime, summing up Gary Kubiak’s 61-64 record with the team as ‘an outstanding job’ and pointing out that Matt Schaub was a Pro-Bowler last year and had done a lot of good for the franchise. While the latter might be true, it’s equally true that both leaders of that regime had clearly run into a brick wall and changes needed to be made. Schaub looks about as far from a Pro-Bowl quarterback right now as I do, and his -6.3 grade for the game reflects his performance. He completed 48.6% of his passes overall, which is a terrible number, but when pressured he was a total train wreck. Matt Schaub may well have done a lot of good for the Texans, and perhaps consistent booing from their fans does his time there a disservice, but the performances he is putting out there right now deserve all the boos they draw.
– When kept clean Schaub completed 77.3% of his passes for a rating of 107.4, but when pressured he completed one pass – 6.7% of his attempts – for a rating of 0.0
– Champ Bailey lasted the game playing 35 snaps in his latest comeback effort. He graded exactly average at 0.0
– Von Miller played just six snaps before going down with a suspected ACL injury. Shaun Phillips (5), Terrance Knighton (5), Robert Ayers (4) and Danny Trevathan (3) spread the load in terms of generating pressures.
PFF Game Ball
Awards season is fast approaching, and Peyton Manning will doubtless get his fair share of those, so the Game Ball here is being split between Eric Decker and Terrance Knighton.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam