Texans embrace challenge of facing Peyton Manning
Houston Texans All-Pro middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans likes the challenge of trying to decipher Peyton Manning's frantic calls and signals before every snap.
Ryans knows better than to overanalyze each one when Houston opens its season against Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. But if he can pick out one important phrase and relay it to Houston's defense in time to ruin a play, he'll feel like he's earned a minor victory against the four-time league MVP.
''You're always trying to find an edge, always trying to find a key on some type of play, anything you can find,'' Ryans said. ''We're going to play our defense. But if I hear something, I'm definitely going to listen in and see what happens. I'm trying to figure things out. If I can make things easier for my defensive guys, that's to our advantage.''
Manning has had his way with the Texans, throwing 37 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions while winning 15 of 16 career meetings. He's completed 71.5 percent of his passes and built a passer rating over 100.0 in 12 of the games.
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar says there's no point in trying to fool Manning, because he'll always identify a defense's weak points during his famous pre-snap routine. The key, Kollar said, is committing to the coverage plan on each play and sticking with it, regardless of what Manning is barking out.
''The guy is almost like a computer, he knows exactly what you're doing,'' Kollar said. ''You know, he'll be under center, or maybe go back to shotgun, or he'll be calling out audibles and doing all that. We've just got to be ready to do what we're going to do. You can only take care of yourself, really.''
Manning will break in a new offensive coordinator on Sunday. Clyde Christensen moved up from receivers coach to replace Tom Moore, who became a senior offensive assistant.
Ryans, entering his fifth season, isn't expecting any radical changes. The Colts have ranked among the top four teams in scoring in eight of the past 11 seasons and finished among the top six passing offenses in 12 straight years.
The Texans can boast one area of success trying to stop the Colts' offense - they've sacked Manning 10 times in their eight games since 2006, the most by any team in that span. Manning was only sacked 10 times last season, and Houston got four of those.
''It's hard to sack him because he gets rid of the ball so well,'' said defensive end Mario Williams, who led the Texans with nine sacks last season. ''His timing with the receivers and everything is just excellent. We all have to have the 'want to' to get after it and get him down.''
Manning said the Texans also have learned to limit the Colts' big plays. Manning's longest reception against Houston last season was a 31-yarder to Austin Collie.
''In the games we've had against them, we really had to go with long drives,'' Manning said. ''It's just tough to get big plays down the field. The idea is to try to take a 3- or 4-yard completion or run, and turn it into a 12-yard run. That's how you have to try to create big plays.''
The Texans have, however, given up some big performances.
In 2007, Reggie Wayne caught 10 passes for 143 yards in a 38-15 Indy victory. In 2008, Marvin Harrison caught nine passes, including a touchdown, in the Colts' 33-27 win.
When the teams met in Indianapolis last year, Dallas Clark caught 14 passes, the third-highest single-game total by an NFL tight end. Strongside linebacker Xavier Adibi will cover Clark at times on Sunday. Adibi is replacing 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, who's suspended for the first four games for testing positive for a banned substance.
Adibi said the Texans need to keep their defense simple against Manning and his receivers.
''You've just got to read your keys,'' Adibi said. ''If you start getting too greedy, that's when you get sucked in, trying to do too much. We've just got to play within our defense, do our jobs and trust each other.''
The Texans have blown 17-point leads in the last two games against the Colts in Houston. Ryans said the defense is confident facing Manning, and now just has to learn to play well against him until the final horn.
''We've had them, we've played them tough,'' Ryans said. ''We just have to go out and finish. We've led them. We kind of let a couple of bad plays kind of down our demeanor. If we can just stay focused on what we have to do the entire time, we'll be fine.''