When the Broncos’ schedule came out in mid-April, there may have been temptation to put this game Monday night against Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans in orange letters. Or navy blue, as the Broncos’ jerseys will be.
Here are 9 keys, plus a bonus point, to the Broncos snapping their two-game losing streak and sending Osweiler back to Houston disappointed:
1. Harass Brock
Although the Texans have a good offensive line anchored by tackles Duane Brown and Derek Newton and guard Jeff Allen, Osweiler has been sacked 12 times in six games. The Broncos still lead the NFL with 21 sacks with Von Miller accounting for 7.5.
2. Protect the ball
The only way the Broncos lose to a team quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler is if they commit costly turnovers. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian hasn’t thrown an interception since week 2 against Indianapolis, but receivers Jordan Taylor and Demaryius Thomas fumbled the ball away in the loss at San Diego last week.
Houston’s defense has only forced six takeaways in six games.
3. Hands up on Brock
Osweiler is 6-foot-7-plus but his three-quarter delivery leaves his passes vulnerable to getting knocked down at the line of scrimmage. When Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Jared Crick can’t push the pocket, they must get their hands up.
4. Win the first quarter
This is getting ridiculous. The Broncos’ 14 first-quarter points rank 31st in the league. Only Arizona’s offense, with 7 points, starts slower.
The 41 points allowed by Denver’s defense in the first quarter are the fourth-most in the league. Only Miami, Kansas City and Cleveland have allowed more.
5. Anticipate Brock
Osweiler’s 8 interceptions are tied with Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston for second-most in the league. Only the now benched Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets has more with 11. Osweiler’s 74.1 passer rating ranks 29th in the league among the 31 quarterbacks eligible for the passing title. The two behind him, Blaine Gabbert and Fitzpatrick, have been benched.
6. Get a 100-yard rusher
Where have you gone, Ronnie Hillman? It doesn’t matter if its starter C.J. Anderson or rookie backup Devontae Booker, who will get more carries this week. The Broncos have gone nine games, including the postseason, without a 100-yard rusher. The last one was Hillman in the final game of the 2015 regular season. Hillman is now with the 5-0 Minnesota Vikings, where he has yet to play.
Houston’s defense ranks 29th against the rush. The Broncos’ 100-yard rushing drought must end.
7. Stop Lamar Miller
The Broncos shut down star receiver Julio Jones and still lost to Atlanta because they couldn’t stop Falcons’ running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
So while Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby will have a difficult task holding Texans’ receiver DeAndre Hopkins in check, it may be more imperative for the Broncos’ defense to stop Miller, who ranks fifth in the NFL with 520 rushing yards. He also has 17 catches.
8. Help Okung against Mercilus, Clowney
Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus may be as underrated as defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is overrated but together they do bring pressure on the quarterback.
Broncos left tackle Russell Okung is recovering from a concussion and a tough game against the Chargers so Anderson will have to be aware in the backfield.
9. Throw D and E the dang ball!
It’s simple. When a team has a receiver duo like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, it shouldn’t rank 27th in net passing yards. Thomas and Sanders rank 16th and 17th, respectively with 416 and 413 yards receiving. Siemian must look their way, even if it’s on shorter routes.
The Texans have lost a key cornerback in Kevin Johnson, but they still have three good ones in A.J. Bouye, Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson.
Bonus: Riley Dixon neutralizes Will Fuller V
The Texans’ first-round rookie Fuller only has two punt returns this year but one was for an 81-yard touchdown. Dixon, the Broncos’ rookie punter, has to either boot ‘em high, or boot ‘em away from Fuller if he’s back there.