Broncos vs. Texans Game Preview

Mike Shanahan goes head to head with former assistant Gary Kubiak and the Houston Texans tonight on Thursday Night Football.

Denver Broncos (6-7) at Houston Texans (6-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/13/07
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network, Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth

SERIES: 2nd meeting. The Broncos won the only meeting, beating the Texans 31-13 in 2004. The teams are familiar, however. The Broncos have played Houston in either the regular season or preseason each of the last five seasons. Twice the Broncos have traveled to Houston for a week of joint practices in training camp.

PREDICTION: Texans 23-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Broncos will pound with RBs Selvin Young and Travis Henry early on, looking to set up the pass for QB Jay Cutler. It was a formula that worked to perfection against Kansas City, with Cutler not even coming close to throwing a pick. The Texans' thin secondary must be concerned with WR Brandon Marshall, who has quietly developed into one of the league's top young outside threats. ... The quick turnaround will be tough for the Texans, who will have backup QB Sage Rosenfels possibly handing off to young RBs Darius Walker and Joe Echemandu. The offensive line is also beat up, but that's where Rosenfels' shorter drop-back could come in handy in getting rid of the ball quickly. Rosenfels has the confidence of his teammates and there really isn't a drop-off with him under center at this point.

KEY INJURIES: Broncos: WR Brandon Stokley (knee) could be a game-time decision; Henry (knee) will likely back up Young again. Texans: QB Matt Schaub (shoulder) will miss his second consecutive game; RB Ron Dayne (ankle) is day-to-day and will likely be limited.

FAST FACTS: Young is the sixth undrafted rookie free agent to top 500 rushing yards. ... Texans WR Andre Johnson has tied a career high with six touchdown catches:

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Broncos:
--S Nick Ferguson is improving from a knee injury, but missed practice Tuesday. He could be held out to give him 10 days to heal before Denver plays at San Diego on Dec. 24.

--WR Brandon Stokley wants to play this week. He missed practice Tuesday with a sore knee but wants to practice Wednesday before the Broncos leave to Houston. He said he doesn't know for sure if he will play.

--WR Javon Walker, who was inactive last week because he wasn't full speed in practice due to a knee injury, practiced Tuesday. Depending on Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's evaluation of him in practice, Walker could be back in the lineup this week.

--TE Tony Scheffler hasn't had any huge games lately, but he is always an option for the Broncos. He is a big part of the offense and could have another big game any week.

--C Chris Myers has done a good job replacing veteran Tom Nalen. Even if Nalen returns next year, Myers should have some role on the offensive line.

--DT Alvin McKinley has had a solid year as a starting tackle. The Broncos don't have a lot of young depth at tackle so McKinley could stay in the mix next year as well.

--LB Jordan Beck has been a revelation on special teams for the Broncos. Signed in midseason, Beck has been one of the team's better players covering kicks.

--OT Erik Pears has handled the transition from left tackle to right tackle this season. He had a bumpy training camp, but then settled in nicely. He is big and athletic, and fits Denver's offense well.

Texans:
--LB DeMeco Ryans (right knee) didn't practice again Tuesday, but he is adamant that he will not miss a start. He has always played through his previous injuries.

--RB Ron Dayne (left ankle) didn't practice Tuesday. He is still in pain from the two-week injury. He hopes to be able to play through it, but he will likely only be at 75 percent strength and not get the bulk of carries.

--G Kasey Studdard (head, neck) is practicing and will play, if needed.

--G Chester Pitts is practicing and is expected to play. He has yet to miss a start in his six seasons.

--QB Matt Schaub (shoulder) was not with the team Tuesday because he was getting a second opinion. He may not play again this season.

--LB Danny Clark (groin) will play this week, he says. He has missed his last two starts. He has been practicing and should be close to 100 percent.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Broncos:
This week's game between the Broncos and Texans could pass for an intrasquad scrimmage.

When Gary Kubiak took over as Texans head coach, he took plenty of the Broncos' philosophy with him, and many people as well. Kubiak was Denver's backup quarterback from 1983-91 and the team's offensive coordinator for 11 seasons. He played in Denver's last Super Bowl loss, and helped devise the game plan for Denver's two Super Bowl wins. Kubiak coaches against the Broncos and his former boss, Mike Shanahan, on Thursday at Houston.

Kubiak said he didn't change too much when he went from Denver to Houston.

"That's the way I was brought up, and it's obvious it's successful," Kubiak said. "We tried to instill the same type of things here, as far as practice habits and meeting habits. The way we go about our business is probably pretty darn identical."

Kubiak left on good terms after the 2005 season. Shanahan stumped for Kubiak when the Texans job was open. Kubiak was instrumental in the Broncos' offensive success and Shanahan was happy to see him get an opportunity to run an organization.

The Texans were quick to latch onto Kubiak. The Broncos were on a playoff run in January of 2006 that would end after the AFC Championship Game, and not long after the game Houston made the hire official.

Shanahan said he has been a Texans fan since.

"I'm always rooting for Houston because of my relationship with Gary, when we're not playing them," Shanahan said.

Kubiak took a lot with him, including the playbook. The Texans and Broncos run very similar offenses. Shanahan said he didn't bother telling Kubiak to leave any of the playbook behind.

"If I would have tried to limit it, he's smart enough to already have it in his house anyhow," Shanahan joked.

Kubiak also took Rick Smith to be his general manager, Troy Calhoun to be his offensive coordinator (Calhoun has since moved onto be Air Force's head coach) and signed some former Broncos players. Houston has five former Broncos players on its roster.

Shanahan and Kubiak still talk often. Kubiak said when an issue arises, he calls Shanahan for advice. Kubiak said he had a lot of duties as a coordinator and that helped him when he became a head coach, but he wasn't prepared for all of the responsibilities of being in charge. Shanahan knew the drill well.

"As a head coach, you're wearing a lot of different hats, for offense, defense, special teams," Shanahan said. "You're talking about free agency, the draft, organizational schedules. There's a few more things you've got to do."

Kubiak is 12-17 as a head coach. He already has as many losing season as Texans head coach as he did in 11 seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator, with the possibility of having a second losing season this year. Still, Kubiak sounded like he was pleased to be trying to build the Texans into a winner.

"It's everything the boss told me it would be, and then some," Kubiak said.

Texans:
One day after the Texans doubled the score on Tampa Bay, coach Gary Kubiak took it easy on his players as they began preparations for Thursday night's nationally televised game against Denver at Reliant Stadium.

The Texans and Broncos have only three days to get ready for the game at Reliant Stadium that features Kubiak against his mentor, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who is the father of Texans quarterbacks coach Kyle Shanahan.

"I think (Kubiak) would like to get a win against his old team, and we'd like to help him do that," said tight end Owen Daniels, who caught a touchdown pass against the Buccaneers. "That hasn't been talked about too much.

"We're just kind of getting our game plan down, but I'm sure that'll be in the back of our minds when we go out there."

Kubiak scheduled a walk-through that lasted half as long as a regular practice. Players who are nursing injuries didn't get on the field because Kubiak wants all hands on deck for the Denver game.

"We're a beat-up team," Kubiak said. "A lot of guys didn't do anything."

If the Texans defeat the Broncos, they will be 7-7 for the first time. A victory also would guarantee at least a tie for the best record in the team's six seasons.

"We have a chance to do something we've never done, and it's important that we do it," said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who didn't participate in the walk-through because of a sore right knee. "This is our shot, and we have to take full advantage of it."

Ryans, running back Ron Dayne, guard Chester Pitts and guard Kasey Studdard were among the players recuperating from injuries suffered against Tampa Bay. Outside linebacker Danny Clark, who has missed the past two games with a groin injury, said he would return against Denver.

The Texans and Broncos are 6-7. On Sunday, the Texans beat the Buccaneers 28-14, and Denver obliterated Kansas City 41-7 behind quarterback Jay Cutler's four touchdown passes.

"Playing on Thursday night is something new for this team," Kubiak said. "The players are looking forward to it. They were very attentive (Monday). We need two more days like this, and we'll be ready to go."

Sage Rosenfels will start in place of Matt Schaub, who is going to California to get a second opinion on his dislocated left shoulder. Rosenfels is 2-0 as a starter this season, and he threw three touchdown passes against Tampa Bay.

"It's not new to me," Rosenfels said about playing a prime-time game. "In Miami, we played, it seemed like two Monday night games and a couple Sunday night games every year, so it's not really a new thing to me. I think playing the prime-time game definitely helps you heal faster, and you get your juices running a little quicker to have only four days to turn around and play."

After they host Denver, the Texans have two games left -- on the road against Indianapolis and at home against Jacksonville. The players seem to be focused on the Broncos.

"Big-time players make plays in big-time games," said safety Will Demps, who is coming off the best game since he signed with the Texans. "We can showcase what the Texans are all about."

Demps, who played in prime-time games with the New York Giants and Baltimore, has been impressed with the way the Texans have moved within one game of .500 despite losing so many players to injuries.

"It's a testament to the coaches and our organization," he said. "It's all about the next man standing up. You can't worry about who's in there next to you or who's going to be playing next, who's going to get dinged up.

"We worry about who's on the field with us and going to battle with us on every play."



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