The Texans are coming off one of their biggest regular season wins in recent memory, a 28-22 win over the 10-2 New England Patriots. So, Sunday's matchup with the Denver Broncos becomes a how-do-you-deal-with-success sort of afternoon. With this Broncos matchup sandwiched between that win over the Patriots and a massively important trip to Nashville to take on the Titans, it's imperative that the Texans come out of the gates ready to tangle with a pesky Denver squad.
Last weekend, as the Texans took down New England, the Broncos pulled a magical win out of their hat in the Mile High City over the Los Angeles Chargers. Rookie quarterback Drew Lock came off injured reserve and jumped right into the starting lineup for the first time in his career. He threw two touchdowns to star receiver Courtland Sutton in the first half and that was enough to lead the Broncos to a 23-20 win. The Broncos offense didn't put up gargantuan numbers, piling up just 218 yards of total offense, but Lock's effectiveness and efficiency on third down were the difference. He completed 10-of-13 passes on third down for five first downs and two touchdowns, both to Sutton.
Defensively, the Broncos don't have the stars of prior years. The entire 2015 Super Bowl winning historical defense is nearly gone, leaving only Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller. And, if Von Miller doesn't play (which he probably will, but he was injured last week), the Texans will have as many players from that 2015 Super Bowl defense as the Broncos do (Harris Jr. for the Broncos and Bradley Roby on the Texans side). Behind the leadership of head coach and defensive mastermind Vic Fangio, though, this defense brings its hard hat and work boots to the field every week to do the dirty work. It's a physical unit up front with a heat, seek and destroy missive in the secondary. However, the loss of Bradley Chubb earlier in the season has been felt and the loss of Derek Wolfe late in last week's game definitely compounds the situation for Denver's front seven. Miller has been dealing with an MCL issue and is doing all he can to be ready for this matchup. If he's out as well, the Broncos are severely hamstrung, no pun intended in this matchup with the Texans offense.
Without further ado, let's get to know the 2019 version of the Denver Broncos.
2019 Schedule - Record 4-8
L, @ Oakland Raiders 24-16
L, Chicago Bears 16-14
L, @ Green Bay Packers 27-16
L, Jacksonville Jaguars 26-24
W, @ Los Angeles Chargers 20-13
W, Tennessee Titans 16-0
L, Kansas City Chiefs 30-6
L, @ Indianapolis Colts 15-13
W, Cleveland Browns 24-19
L, @ Minnesota Vikings 27-23
L, @ Buffalo Bills 20-3
W, Los Angeles Chargers 23-20
Broncos offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 108.3 ypg (16th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 187.4 ypg (31st)
Total offense per game - 295.8 ypg (27th)
Turnovers lost - 13 (8 INT, 5 fumbles lost)
Projected Broncos starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - DREW LOCK (rookie)
RB - Phillip Lindsay
WR - Courtland Sutton
WR - DaeSean Hamilton
TE - NOAH FANT (rookie)
TE - Jeff Heuerman
LT - Garrett Bolles
LG - DALTON RISNER (rookie)
C - Connor McGovern
RG - Ronald Leary
RT - Ja'Wuan James (injured last few weeks, expected to return Sunday)
Other key offensive pieces:
WR - Tim Patrick
RB - Royce Freeman
RB - Devontae Booker
RT - Elijah Wilkinson (started past few weeks with Ja'Wuan James out with knee injury)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Broncos offense:
1. Sutton stops suddenly. The second-year wide receiver is one of the best young, big receivers in the league. Like the greats in this league, he can do anything at the receiver position and poses a huge problem that isn't, more than likely, solved by one defensive back - you get where I'm going, right? Sutton will be Drew Lock's security blanket, so take his binkie away with a combination of coverage opportunities, including double coverage as well.
2. Don't mistake running back Phillip Lindsay's lack of size for hunger, drive and determination or he will embarrass any, and all, feeble arm tackle attempts. The Texans held him in check last year and slowed the Broncos offense down as a result. That wasn't easy to do, so run fits and sure tackles are a must this weekend against the Broncos bell-cow back.
3. Attack the offensive line in the passing game and make them 1-on-1 protectors. That's a clear advantage for the Texans defensive pass rushers. In so doing, the Texans can get the requisite pressure on a rookie quarterback that can lead to turnovers and stops.
4. D.J. Reader must continue to dominate from guard to guard against the run or pass.
5. Rookie Noah Fant hasn't caught the ball consistently well this season, but he's a nightmare for secondary/linebackers to cover due to his speed and athleticism.
Broncos defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 113.7 ypg (20th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 210.6 ypg (5th)
Total offense allowed per game - 324.2 ypg (11th)
Turnovers generated - 12 (7 INT, 5 fumble recoveries - Broncos are -1 in TO margin)
Projected Broncos starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DT - Shelby Harris
DE - DRE'MONT HARRIS (rookie)
DT - MIKE PURCELL
SLB - MALIK REED (rookie)
ILB - Alexander Johnson
ILB - Todd Davis
WLB - Von Miller (missed last week vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
CB - Chris Harris Jr.
S - KAREEM JACKSON
S - Justin Simmons
CB - Isaac Yiadom
(S - Will Parks - used in sub-packages)
Other key defensive pieces:
LB - JEREMIAH ATTAOCHU
LB - JUSTIN HOLLINS (rookie)
DT - DeMarcus Walker
DE - Adam Gotsis
CB - DAVONTAE HARRIS
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Broncos defense:
1. Block Von... if he plays and I'm anticipating that he does. Simple as that, he's the only Bronco that can change/wreck the game with Derek Wolfe and Bradley Chubb both on IR.
2. When Will Parks is on the field, know his whereabouts. He's the one player who does come off the edge on the blitz. He had a sack last week and that blitz, and that blitzer, worries me.
3. Recognize coverage early, deliver the rock quickly. That's been one of Deshaun Watson's keys lately and it's made this offense dangerous at all levels.
4. Continue to push the offense down the field with calculated deep shots to the triumvirate of receivers on this squad.
5. Not just win, but dominate from guard to guard to open holes in the run game. The Texans offense was top seven in the league heading into Week 14 last year and ran for over 100 yards just once over the last five games of 2018. The Texans haven't run for 100 yards or more since facing Baltimore three weeks ago. It's time to crank up that diesel and run the rock effectively, without needing Deshaun Watson to tote the rock more than his usual five to seven times a game to reach the century mark.