One of the biggest stories of the offseason was Denver’s situation at quarterback, which quickly turned into a huge question mark thanks to two moves: Peyton Manning retiring and Brock Osweiler leaving for the Texans. The Broncos were forced to go into the season with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch as their quarterbacks, and it’s turned out to be a smart move.
Osweiler, on the other hand, has not played well at all for the Texans after receiving a $72 million contract without visiting the team. Despite his struggles, Houston is sitting in first place in the AFC South with a solid 4-2 record. Will its winning ways continue as Osweiler returns “home” against the Broncos? Don’t count on it.
Denver’s defense, motivated by Osweiler's return and back-to-back losses, will come out firing against the Texans and make the QB's life difficult. Because of that, among other reasons, the Broncos will get back on track with their fifth win of the year.
Houston is depleted in the secondary
The Texans have been good against the pass this season, surrendering just 189 yards per game (second-best in the league). However, for as good as they’ve been, they're fortunate to have faced a not-so-stellar list of quarterbacks thus far. That’s not to say their secondary isn’t legit, but it’s not nearly as strong as stats would indicate.
Compound that with a recent rash of injuries and the Texans’ defense could be in for a rough game against Siemian and the Broncos. Cornerback Kevin Johnson is out with a broken foot, and safety Quinton Demps is out with a calf injury. Kareem Jackson will be on the field after missing last week’s game with a hamstring injury, but it’s hard to believe he’ll be at 100 percent. As a result, Houston’s secondary will have a hard time hanging with Denver’s strong receiving unit.
Emmanuel Sanders won’t have Johnson to deal with in the slot, while tight end Virgil Green won’t have to face Demps in coverage. Both players should take advantage of Houston’s depleted unit, as will Demaryius Thomas, who’s been much better this season than he was a year ago. Siemian isn’t Tom Brady, but he’s proved he can make throws down the field, which he’ll certainly do against the Texans.
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C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker will give Houston’s defense fits
The Broncos have a new two-headed monster in the backfield following Ronnie Hillman’s departure, and this duo might be even better than last year’s. C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker have rushed for a combined 491 yards this season, even though they’ve struggled in recent weeks. The emergence of Booker has allowed Denver to take pressure off of Anderson and keep both players fresh. Booker is averaging 4.7 yards per carry to Anderson’s 3.5, and coach Gary Kubiak made it clear he wants to get the rookie more touches.
Houston has struggled to stop the run this season, too. It's allowing 126.3 rushing yards per game, which is 29th in the NFL. Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which isn’t phenomenal, but they’ve also realized that running against Houston will wear down the defense – especially with J.J. Watt (back) out. The Broncos have the talent to control the game on the ground, and they don’t turn it over on the ground. They’ve fumbled it just once this season. This game could come down to each team’s running game.
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Brock Osweiler has been bad against mediocre defenses
The Texans are 4-2 and sit atop the paltry AFC South, but their success hasn’t been the result of Osweiler’s play. Outside of last week’s win over the Colts, which Indianapolis gifted the Texans, Osweiler has been terrible. He’s 29th in the NFL in yards per attempt and passer rating and 26th in yards per game despite the fact that Houston has played fairly mediocre defenses thus far. If he has just eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions against lesser competition, imagine what a motivated Denver defense is going to do to him.
The Broncos have probably had this game circled on the calendar for months after watching Osweiler leave for more money in Houston, so the urgency will certainly be high. Add in the fact that the Broncos have lost back-to-back games and struggled in recent weeks, and there will be no shortage of motivation to beat their former quarterback. Heck, linebacker Brandon Marshall already came out and said the Broncos “want to kill” Osweiler in this game.
Denver has allowed the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL and has surrendered just four touchdown passes this season. Its 71.0 passer rating allowed is third-best in the NFL as the Broncos have picked off five passes already. If Houston is going to win this game, it’ll have to be on the ground.