KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross
2004 RANKINGS: Texans: offense 9th (25th rush, 6th pass); defense 24th (18th rush, 25th pass). Broncos: offense 5th (6th rush, 8th pass); defense 4th (10th rush, 3rd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: To win their third consecutive game for the first time in team history, the Texans need to continue the aggressive defense that has seen them go the last six quarters without allowing a touchdown. Meanwhile, Broncos QB Jake Plummer has thrown five interceptions in the past two games. Denver wants to get out of the gates quickly to control the clock and make sure RB Reuben Droughns remains a big part of its game plan. The Broncos aren't getting a consistent pass rush without injured DE Trevor Pryce, which has left the secondary more vulnerable. That's a big concern against a Texans offense with 22 completions of at least 25 yards. But Houston has struggled to run the ball and the defense will spend too much time on the field unless RB Domanick Davis can get untracked.
FAST FACTS: Texans: Are the only remaining team without a rush of at least 20 yards. ... Rookie OLB Jason Babin leads the team with 27 quarterback pressures. Broncos: WR Rod Smith needs one reception to tie TE Shannon Sharpe's (675) franchise record. ... Allowing an average of 17.6 points the past five games.
PREDICTION: Broncos 24-23
-- CB Aaron Glenn missed practice for a second straight day with a chest injury Thursday. Glenn will practice on Friday and be available for Sunday's game against the Broncos, coach Dom Capers said.
-- Third-year strong safety Ramon Walker went through a full week of practice for the first time since suffering a knee injury almost 12 months ago. Walker was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list and is eligible to practice the next three weeks before the Texans have to make a decision whether to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
"I've been waiting for this day for a while," Walker said. "It feels like the beginning of the season. I want to play as soon as possible."
-- TE Bennie Joppru, a second-round selection in 2003 who has yet to play a down for the Texans because of a chronic groin problem, is expected to be activated off the PUP list either Nov. 8 or 9. That timetable would mean Joppru could be placed on the active roster and be eligible to play Nov. 5 against the Jets.
-- In four career games against the AFC West, WR Andre Johnson has 21 catches for 371 yards and three TDs.
-- P Chad Stanley has 81 punts inside the 20-yard line since 2002, most in the NFL.
-- The trio of OLBs Kailee Wong, Jason Babin and Antwan Peek have accounted for 52 quarterback pressures this season, according to statistics compiled by the coaching staff.
-- The Texans have allowed an average of 70 rushing yards in the last two games. They expect the Broncos to establish the running game behind Reuben Droughns early and often Sunday.
"They want to run the ball," defensive end Gary Walker said. "They are going to run the ball and then they are going to set up the pass."
--RB Tatum Bell made it through practice on Thursday with his strained hamstring, unlike on Wednesday when he had to drop out of practice early because of the injury. If Bell is active Sunday, he would be either the No. 2 or 3 tailback.
--DE Trevor Pryce said while he has sat out recuperating from back surgery, he has gotten a new perspective on the game after watching it from the press box on Sundays. Pryce said he's able to call out plays before they happen from the press box, which should make him more aware when he does return to the lineup.
--G Dan Neil is seemingly always battling injuries -- he's probable on the injury report this week with groin and knee problems -- but Neil is as tough as they come and one of the reasons Denver's running game keeps producing. Neil has missed only three games since the start of the 2000 season.
--CB Champ Bailey has two interceptions this season, but the rest of the Broncos only have one. Denver hasn't been able to produce many picks in any of the past three years -- they have 21 since the beginning of the 2002 season. Bailey has done well creating turnovers, but the Broncos could use a pick or two from their other defensive backs to make it easier on their offense.
--WR Nate Jackson has impressed the coaching staff. He has been put into games late and made plays although he hasn't had much practice time during the week as Denver's fourth receiver. Jackson could develop into a solid receiver for the Broncos down the line.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
At some point during Sunday's game - maybe even from the very first play - Houston Texans quarterback David Carr will take a peek out of the corner of his eye and locate Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey.
The Texans plan to know where Bailey is during Sunday's game at Invesco Field at Mile High.
"He's talented and he's smart," Carr said of Bailey. "He's seen all the routes. There are guys that try and get him on double moves and he's 10 yards off of them. He has seen all the tricks."
The term "shutdown corner" applies to Bailey, Carr said.
"He's definitely a corner you have to be aware of when you go out against him," he said. "You can't just throw balls out there and hope a guy makes a play on it. He plays wide receiver, too. He knows how to catch the ball, so you have to be careful."
The Texans believe they have their own equalizer for Bailey: second-year receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson, who is second in the AFC with 665 yards, has the combination of size, speed and strengths that causes match up problems for most corners.
"I've got Andre, so that evens things up," Carr said. "(The Broncos) would be crazy not to match him up with Andre."
For that reason, Johnson expects Bailey to be like a magnet on hip on Sunday.
"He's a guy that you can put on an island by himself and let him play man-to-man against the best receiver on the team," Johnson said. "That's something we expect them to do. It's going to be a big challenge."
The Broncos refuse to rule John Lynch out of Sunday's game against Houston, even though Lynch was supposed to miss 2-4 weeks with an injury.
Lynch suffered a stress fracture of his sacrum -- a group of vertebrae near the tailbone -- against Atlanta last week. Lynch convinced Denver's trainers to list him as doubtful on the injury report and not out, so the possibility of him playing would remain open.
"I don't know if they'll even let me play if I wanted to," Lynch said. "Probably not."
Lynch didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday but was watching practice on Thursday. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan hasn't ruled out Lynch playing, although Lynch himself called the possibility of playing Sunday "highly unlikely."
By mid-week, Lynch was still upset about how he was injured. Lynch took a blind-side hit by Atlanta receiver Brian Finneran well away from the play, and yelled at the Falcons players in anger as he left the field. Falcons coach Jim Mora said Monday that "I guess what goes around comes around," referring to the controversial cut block by Broncos offensive lineman George Foster that ended Cincinnati defensive lineman Tony Williams' season.
Lynch said he thought Finneran's hit was legal but unnecessary, and he would like to get some revenge of his own when he sees Finneran again. "I don't know when we'll play Atlanta again but when we do I kind of echo (Mora's) sentiments and also say paybacks are hell," Lynch said.
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