ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** For Texans Interim Head Coach Wade Phillips, making sense of Houston's 12-game losing streak – in the midst of a season where the Texans rank fourth in the NFL in total defense and are on the verge of cracking the top-10 in total offense – remains a bit of a mystery.
"Certainly it's an enigma," Phillips said during a conference call with the Denver media on Wednesday. "I mean, gee, you're 11th in offense and fourth in defense in the NFL and you don't win any games. It's certainly hard to explain. We've lost a lot of close games, and we've not played well enough to win in those situations."
The Texans enter Sunday's matchup with the Broncos having lost eight games by a touchdown or less. But for Phillips, who assumed his interim position after Head Coach Gary Kubiak was fired on Dec. 6, reflecting on the setbacks that cost Houston throughout this season isn't an option.
Instead, it's about finding ways to make corrections and pull together for a strong conclusion to what has been an otherwise-disappointing season for the Texans.
"Again, taking over with only three games left, you really can't delve into the past too much as far as what's going on," Phillips said. "You try to keep the team together, keep them working hard, keep their attitude good. Like I said, try to change what you can, but it's a difficult situation. But we're making the best of it and looking forward to the next ball game."
Awaiting them are the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning – who leads the NFL with 4,811 passing yards and 47 touchdown passes this season – and Phillips was quick to express his admiration for Manning's level of play.
"Well, what haven't you seen?" Phillips said with a chuckle. "The guy is going to set every record that's ever been in the book as far as touchdown passes, yards, four-touchdown games -- it goes on and on. He's had the best year ever of any quarterback and their team is probably the odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl. You've seen about everything and they've executed tremendously well."
Finding a way to slow Manning and the Broncos offense, defensive end J.J. Watt said, will require the Texans to put forth their "best performance."
"Obviously, Peyton is having a 'Peyton Manning' type of year. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the game and has been doing it for a long time," Watt said. "We need to play our game. We need to do what we do best. We need to put our best foot forward, and we can't have penalties—that's the thing that has been hurting us all year. We just need to go out there and put our best performance out there."
Defensively, the Texans rank fourth in the league, allowing 304.2 yards per game – and Houston's pass defense has been especially stingy, ranking second in the NFL with just 183.3 yards per game. And in defending a Broncos offense that ranks atop the NFL, Watt noted that the Texans will need to establish their authority and force the Broncos to adjust their own game plan.
"You need to play your game," Watt said. "Obviously, you watch the film and make little adjustments here and there, but you play your game and the goal is to make the other team adjust to you."
Watt was especially disruptive in the last meeting between the teams – a 31-25 Texans victory at Sports Authority Field in Mile High in Week 3 of the 2012 season, Manning's third regular-season contest as a Bronco – registering 2.5 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss. But in sizing up a Broncos offensive line that has changed significantly since the teams last played, Watt noted that the chemistry Denver's linemen have exhibited this season has led to much of their success on the field.
"Their offensive line, they work well together," Watt said. "Obviously, having Peyton back there he can get the ball out quick sometimes. He makes the right checks, he does a lot of the right things back there to put his team in a good position. But their offensive line, they know what they're supposed to do and they do it well. Obviously, the success they've had this year shows it."
And while Watt's sack total has dropped from 20.5 in 2012 to 9.5 this season, Phillips noted that there has not been any fall-off in the defensive end's play – or in his intensity on the field.
"He's probably the best defensive lineman in the league, so I'm not very critical of him," Phillips said. "He gets more and more attention this year, obviously, since he dominated the league last year. And that's probably as much as anything. He gets the center or the guard, or somebody extra, on him most of the time. He still makes plays in the backfield, he still makes plays hitting the quarterback. He's leading the league in quarterback hits."
Watt noted that, although the double-teams and triple-teams he has faced throughout the season have made it more difficult to make plays, they have hardly numbed his competitive spirit and relentlessness on the field.
"If I happen to be blocked by two or three guys, it makes the sack that much more satisfying," Watt said. "It makes making the play that much more satisfying. If it makes it a little bit harder, that's alright. That's a sign of respect and I appreciate it. I welcome the challenge."
Although the Texans' season will not continue into January, Watt noted that his desire to compete, too, still burns as intensely as ever.
"When you have a chance to go out there and compete, and you have a chance to go out there and play the game of football—I mean, I realize how fortunate I am to be in the NFL," he said. "Not everybody has this chance. So when I get a chance 16 times a year to go out there on Sunday and play and let it loose and show what I'm about and show what I can do as a player and show what we can do as a team, it's a great opportunity."