Coming off an ugly home loss to San Diego, where they were pushed around on both sides of the ball, the Broncos must regain control of their season and dominate the free-falling Houston Texans this weekend.
Before looking ahead to the playoffs though, Denver must simplify its approach on the field and focus on getting the ground game going early on against a Texans front seven that allowed 152 rushing yards to the Colts on Sunday.
While the Broncos have catapulted into the regular record books with their aerial attack this season, it’s their run offense that will make the difference come January no matter how well Peyton Manning handles the colder weather.
With a productive two-headed monster in Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, the Broncos have a chance to do something special and make the deep run that the team wasn’t able to make earlier this year.
Despite Houston’s dreadful 2-12 record that includes a 12 game losing streak, the Texans are a team that specializes in containing the pass. They rank second in the league in pass defense, allowing only 183 yards per game.
Denver must attack the Texans’ upfront — a battle they lost against San Diego last Thursday — and force a safety to crash the box, which will create more optimal passing situations.
If they are not successful in doing so, and former Denver linebacker Joe Mays’ is able to limit the Broncos to less than 120 rush yards, it could be a long day.
Moreno and Ball were largely ineffective against the Chargers last week and as a result, the offense suffered immensely.
Houston has not surrendered yet, and it’s important to remember that going into Sunday.
Although they have nothing to salvage, or even play for at this point, the Texans will give the Broncos a tough game — a lot closer than most expect.
Where the Broncos can take advantage is dominating the time of possession and limiting backup QB Case Keenum‘s time on the field.
Keenum hasn’t exactly been a lightening rod for this Houston team, but fans would be ignorant to think if he doesn’t pose a significant problem to the Broncos’ pass defense that has struggled at times against scrambling quarterbacks and big play receivers, such as the Texans’ Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.
I’d be willing to predict Keenum goes over the 300-yard passing mark in this game if given enough opportunities with the ball. The Broncos’ defense has been downright pitiful in creating turnovers this season, so when Houston possesses it, they will be moving the ball. Besides playing sound defense, which Denver hasn’t proved consistently capable of, the Broncos best chance of beating Keenum and the Texan offense is to keep the ball in their possession.
This means no one minute scoring drives from Manning and the pass offense. What it does call for is long, 12-to-15 play drives where Moreno and Ball each see four to five carries.
Of course, the offensive line’s play dictates their success against the Texans front seven, but if they can create some holes and the Broncos call the right plays, Houston will be wallowing in its 13 consecutive loss.
What’s most important in this key matchup is that the Broncos backs hold onto the ball, something they struggled with early in the season. A turnover on offense could result in a straight up loss for the club — it happened last and it could happen again this week, because Denver’s defense is simply not good enough at creating extra possession for its offense.
If Denver eclipses 200 yards on the ground, it’s easy to predict how this one will play out — something to the tune of Denver 41, Houston 7. However, if they fail to break 100 rushing yards Sunday they could be looking at their second straight loss.
I’m going with Broncos 31, Texans 24 believing that Denver’s rush attack will spark its offense just enough to escape Houston with a much-needed win. It won’t come easy though.