Houston Texans vs. Denver Broncos: 5 Things We Learned
Coming back from a 20-point deficit for the second straight week, the Broncos made a late rally yet again by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Broncos have now outscored their opponents 45-6 in the fourth quarter, but despite that sizable margin in the last quarter, the Broncos currently stand at 1-2.
In watching this game, it was pretty clear that the Texans are a better team than the Broncos. Yes, the Broncos did end the game losing by only six points. Yes, Peyton Manning didn't turn the ball over. But after the Broncos led 5-0 after a safety and a field goal kick by Matt Prater, the game was never in doubt. It was simply in Houston's favor the entire way.
What are some of the things that we learned about the Broncos after this loss?
The Broncos proved that although they are a solid team, they still have a ways to go before they can be considered an "elite" team...
The Denver Broncos Are Not Elite
As the last statement in the previous slide indicates, this game and last week's game in Atlanta have led me to this conclusion—the Broncos are not an elite team. At least not at the current moment.
Could the Broncos eventually develop into being one of the elite teams in the NFL as the season progresses? Of course. The ingredients and the potential are there. The fact that the Broncos had a chance to win after digging themselves into 20-point deficits for the last two games says something about not only the mental makeup of the team, but the talent level on this team.
Having said that, the Broncos turned the ball over four times in one quarter against perhaps the best team in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons. This week, they didn't turn the ball over—the fumble at the end of the game doesn't count—but that just speaks volumes about how far along the Texans are right now in comparison to the Broncos.
The Broncos didn't turn the ball over, but that did not stop them from being down 31-11 heading into the fourth quarter, before they made their late attempt to rally.
The Texans pressured Manning repeatedly, shut down the running game by playing great team defense and the Broncos were never able to get into an offense rhythm. The defense was burned for several big plays, including two big touchdown receptions by Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson. And the problem with those plays were, they easily beat the man that was covering them.
The Broncos had missed coverage assignments, gave up clutch third-down conversions on defense and when they finally did get pressure on the quarterback, unfortunately, it resulted in unnecessary roughness penalties that gave the Texans extra yardage and first downs.
What is the one main thing that you could conclude after watching this game?
The Broncos were not only dominated for most of the afternoon, but they proved that they are not an "elite" team.
The Defense Struggles Against Elite Offenses
I said this last week and I'll say it again: This defense has struggled against elite passing attacks for a while now, and it continued today.
Matt Schaub is not an elite quarterback, but the Texans' offense is an elite offense with their ability to run and pass. They have two excellent runners in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and their running attack is complemented by capable receivers in Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter.
The Broncos gave up a record day to Aaron Rodgers last year, when they allowed him to throw for 400 yards, pass for four touchdowns and also run for two more, allowing Rodgers to become the only quarterback in NFL history to accomplish such a feat.
In two games vs. Tom Brady last year, the Broncos' defense offered very little resistance, allowing 86 points in two meetings with the Patriots, including a six-touchdown effort by Brady in the divisional round of the playoffs with 28 minutes still remaining in the game.
Some readers thought it wasn't a problem considering that "it's expected" that elite quarterbacks play like elite quarterbacks when they face the Broncos.
That is true, but not to this extent. The fact that Matt Schaub threw for four touchdowns today—and had two deep touchdown passes to Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson to make it a 21-5 game early on—is a problem.
And it has been a problem for a while now.
Peyton Manning Gets Better as the Game Progresses
Phil Simms recognized this, and I'm sure most Broncos fans do, too.
Peyton Manning plays better as the game wears on. How else can you explain that through three games, the Broncos have outscored their opponents 45-6 in the fourth quarter?
The Broncos scored 11 points in the first half, failing to connect in the end zone until the fourth quarter. When the Broncos scored their first touchdown of the game, it was with 9:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Peyton Manning's arm seems to loosen up as the game progresses, and for the third straight week, his performance was indicative of it.
In the third quarter, the Broncos didn't score at all, and they had two drives where they didn't get a first down without a penalty. Their last drive of the quarter ended at the Houston 47-yard line.
Manning would throw two touchdowns in a seven-minute span in the fourth quarter, bringing the Broncos back from a 20-point deficit for the second straight week.
Whether it's because Manning's arm loosens up as the game progresses, or he and the Broncos' offense plays better as they enter the no-huddle attack, the fact of the matter is this: Manning plays better as the game comes to a close.
The Broncos Drop Way Too Many Passes
I don't work for Stats. Inc, so I don't know how many passes the Bronco receivers dropped today.
All I know is that there were a few, to say the least.
I understand that Manning threw the ball 52 times and that the Texans played outstanding defense. But the fact of the matter remains that guys like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker dropped easy passes today that should have been completions.
That is unacceptable for guys that are starting receivers.
It wasn't just this week; it was the case last week in Atlanta, too.
If you want to be an elite team, you simply cannot drop easy passes.
Houston's receivers didn't drop any passes, and they are the definition of an elite team.
The Broncos are working on becoming an elite team, and they dropped many passes today.
It is one of many reasons why the Broncos are not an elite team as of the current moment, while the Texans are.
The Broncos' Offense Is Too Streaky
This slide goes a little bit hand in hand with the third slide in this article, but it remains true: The offense gets way too stagnant at times.
For three quarters last week, the Broncos' red-zone offense (their offense period) was shut down by the Atlanta Falcons.
The case remained true for a second straight week, this time against the Houston Texans.
The Broncos ran the ball for only 2.8 yards per carry today, while Houston ran for 4.5 yards per carry. For much of the second half, Manning's completion rate hovered below 50 percent and the Broncos were 1-of-3 in the red zone.
The Broncos' average yards per pass attempt was 5.7 yards, in comparison to the Texans' 9.2 yards per pass attempt.
Halfway through the third quarter, the Broncos had zero net yardage offensively. It was not until their last drive of the third quarter did they legitimately gain a first down.
The defense is inconsistent and struggles against elite offenses, and the offense has shown the potential to score but is way too inconsistent to win games in shootouts against elite teams.
What is the point?
If the Broncos want to be an elite team, they have a lot of things to work on.
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