The Texans (2-0) kept the ball with a punishing running game in last week's 27-7 victory over Jacksonville. Sure, the defense played well again, holding the Jaguars to nine first downs and 117 total yards. But thanks to the well-executed ball-control game plan, the NFL's currently top-ranked defense was only on the field for 38 plays.
It'll be a tougher test in Denver, even if Manning and the Broncos (1-1) are coming off a 27-21 loss to Atlanta. The four-time MVP threw three interceptions in the first quarter, but Texans coach Gary Kubiak has seen Manning beat his team too many times in the past to put much stock in that.
"He's doing all the things he's always done," Kubiak said Wednesday. "He's getting them in the right play, getting them in the right thing to do and he's got a new group that he's doing it with, that's what's impressive. When you've got him, you're always in the ballgame."
Through two weeks, though, Houston's offense has been more productive, averaging 374 yards to 335 per game for the Broncos. And the Texans have flexed their versatility in both games, relying more on the pass in their opening 30-10 win over Miami and turning to their talented tandem of running backs in Sunday's win.
Arian Foster rushed for 110 yards on 28 carries and Ben Tate added 74 yards on 12 carries. Kubiak said he split their rushes to keep them fresh in the Florida humidity, and he talks with running backs coach Chick Harris before each game about how he'll rotate the two.
Foster and Tate had bigger days together last season. They both topped 100 yards rushing in wins over Tennessee and Cleveland.
"We try to feel the flow of the game, which player is playing well with certain plays," Harris said. "Once we get into the flow of the game, we start to see who's hot and who's not, or what plays are more advantageous for certain players, and we go from there. It's all about feel."
Houston finished with 216 yards rushing on a team-record 48 carries and held the ball for a whopping 43 minutes, 17 seconds. Kubiak loves to see that. The Texans are 2-0 this season and 39-15 under Kubiak when outrushing their opponent.
Kubiak told star receiver Andre Johnson at halftime that the Texans were going to continue to run on Jacksonville, and Johnson didn't mind a bit.
"Coach Kubiak was like, `Hey man, don't get frustrated,' " Johnson said. "I was like, `Coach, just run it down their throat. If they're going to let us keep running it, just keep running it."'
Johnson finished with three catches for 21 yards. He was more of a focal point in the opener, making eight catches for 119 yards.
"I can go out and receive for 200 yards. If you don't win, then what does it really matter?" Johnson said. "Of course, you're going to have people tell you that you did great for their fantasy league. But I can't worry about how much money they win at the end of the season. My objective is to help this team win Super Bowls."
Kubiak came out of the opener disappointed that Houston generated only 83 yards rushing, although Foster did have two touchdown runs.
Houston went to a "muddle huddle" in Jacksonville, a variation of the no-huddle offense, to set a quick early tempo. Kubiak said the idea was to generate more offensive plays and that panned out well: The Texans ran 83 offensive plays against the Jaguars, a team record for a regulation game.
"There are a lot of different approaches we can take to the game, based on what we think is our strength or our matchup," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "That was last game, so I've got to move on. But it was just something we thought we could do in that environment to help us out."
That would seem to be a smart strategy to at least try against Manning, too -- the longer he's standing with his coaches, the better the Texans' chances of winning the game.
"You've got to respect his greatness," left tackle Duane Brown said. "You see what he's able to do when he's on the field, and keeping him off the field is the best defense for us."