Denver Broncos vs. Houston Texans: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Denver
The Broncos have now won the AFC West three years in a row. They also now have the most AFC West division titles (13) in NFL history. Broncos head coach John Fox became just the fourth head coach in NFL history to win a division title in each of his first three seasons with a team.
Peyton Manning had another record-setting day, throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns against the Texans. With Sunday’s production, Manning now has thrown for an NFL-record 51 touchdown passes this season. This passes the old mark (50) set by Tom Brady in 2007.
After the game, Manning commented on his record-setting performance:
"I really feel like it’s a team accomplishment, certainly an offensive accomplishment. But a lot of people played roles in this. I think it’s a unique thing and neat thing to be a part of NFL history, even though it may be temporary."
"I personally think all season records are going down, especially if they go to 18 games and there won’t be an asterisk next to them. [Tom] Brady will probably break it next year and the year after, so we’ll enjoy it for as long as it lasts and hopefully the Hall of Fame would send the ball back once somebody throws for more."
"Our receivers caught a lot of touchdowns, made a lot of special plays. Eric (Decker)’s touchdown catch today was typical of a lot of great catches these guys have made all season long. Protection, blocking by the tight ends and running backs, play-calling and scheming. Adam Gase has been awesome all year and the coaches that have helped him call those plays and the defense getting us the ball."
"Mike Adams’ interception, in my opinion, was the play of the day today. We were in a little rut on both sides of the ball and that really spring-boarded the whole team. But certainly, I’m very appreciative of it."
Fox had something to say about Manning’s amazing season after the game against the Texans:
“It was great. To see a guy that has worked as hard as he has a lot of his career, and I know for a fact that the two seasons we’ve had him, almost two seasons, are pretty remarkable and really exciting to be around.”
In addition to a new touchdown record, Manning could set the single-season record for passing yards as well. Heading into Week 17, Manning is only 265 yards short of the mark set by Drew Brees (5,476 yards) in 2011. Manning is averaging 347.4 yards passing per game. Even if he only plays part of the game against the Raiders, Manning should be able to establish a new record.
The team has now guaranteed itself a first-round bye in the playoffs. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is still up in the air after Week 16. If the Broncos beat the Raiders in their final regular-season game, then they will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Texans.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record/Statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning: A+
The Broncos kept passing in the game against the Texans, even when they weren’t having success through the air initially. That stubbornness paid off when Manning was able to break the Texans’ back with three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
Manning was under duress for much of the game against the Texans. He was only sacked once, but he was hit six times on Sunday. Manning stayed strong in the pocket, and he absorbed some big hits to deliver the ball downfield.
He was elated to set the new mark for the most touchdown passes in a single season. Manning talked about how he felt after breaking the record with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas:
"Yeah, it was very special. Very rarely during an NFL game do you get to have a moment like that and, in 2004, when we broke Marino’s record, we had to go for two and we really did not get to enjoy it. We went for two, converted it to tie the game and the game ended up going in to overtime and then we ended up winning the game."
"We got to enjoy it after the game in the locker room, but very rarely during the course of a game, having some of my teammates come out on to the field, there were some defensive players coming out there high-fiving me and I was just telling them, ‘Thanks’ back for all their help, but that’s certainly a moment I’ll remember."
"A lot of Broncos fans in the stands today. That was pretty unique as well, so it was surely a moment that I’ll remember because of the team bonding that kind of went on during that time."
Manning now gets a shot to set a new record for the most passing yards in a single season. He should be able to establish that new mark against a Raiders defense that allows an average of 254.4 yards passing per game.
Brock Osweiler: n/a
We actually saw Osweiler on the field for a few snaps at the end of the game. He didn't attempt a pass, and only handed the ball off to Ronnie Hillman three times.
Knowshon Moreno: A
The Texans had a rough time stopping the ground game when the Broncos actually had the commitment to run the ball. Moreno’s running gave the Broncos offense an attitude that was infectious to the entire team.
He finished the game with 11 carries for 76 yards, with a long carry of 31 yards. That represented his longest rush of the season. Moreno also had two catches for 26 yards as a receiver out of the backfield.
With his performance on Sunday, Moreno has gone over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. This is the the 20th all-time 1,000-yard rushing performance in team history. Additionally, Moreno became the first Broncos running back and just the 23rd NFL player overall to record 1,000 yards rushing (1,015) and 500 yards receiving (507) in a single year.
Montee Ball: C
Ball didn’t do much against the Texans, but there was more there for the taking if the Broncos had attempted more rushes.
He finished the game with four carries for 32 yards, good for eight yards per carry. Ball was targeted once as a receiver out of the backfield, but he did not gather in the catch.
The rookie did struggle as a pass-protector against the Texans. He missed some oncoming pass-rushers, which put Peyton Manning under duress. Even when Ball did get his block, he did not maintain his block at the point of attack.
If he wants to get more playing time, Ball will need to improve his pass-protection ability.
Ronnie Hillman: C-
The Broncos declared C.J. Anderson inactive for the game against the Texans. This meant Hillman was active for the second week in a row. He actually got a few carries at the end of the game. Hillman finished the game with three carries for six yards.
Demaryius Thomas had a great game against the Texans. He did a good job of using his large frame to box out smaller defenders. Thomas was once again able to show off his run-after-the-catch ability on shorter routes. In addition, Peyton Manning targeted him deep as well.
He was targeted 14 times against the Texans on Sunday. Thomas caught eight of those targets for 123 yards and one touchdown.
Eric Decker: A+
Decker was nearly unstoppable against the Texans. Without Wes Welker, we once again saw Decker playing in the slot. This week he was able to shake free against the coverage, and he torched the Texans on different kinds of routes.
Manning targeted him 17 times against the Texans on both short and long routes. Decker hauled in 10 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He scored the touchdown that allowed Manning to tie the record for most touchdowns in a single season.
After the game, Decker talked about that catch. “I had an idea it was coming. I was making sure I was in the right spot because if I wasn’t there and didn’t have a chance to catch it, I would’ve heard about it. That was a play that was designed to come to me or (TE Jacob) Tamme, but I’m happy I made it.”
Decker now has 10 touchdown catches this season. This gives the team four players with 10 or more touchdown catches in a single season. With Knowshon Moreno’s 12 total touchdowns, the Broncos have five players with double-digit touchdowns. Both of these marks are new NFL records.
Andre Caldwell: C
Caldwell didn’t play as large of a role as he did last week against the Chargers. The Texans struggled to stop Decker and Thomas, so the Broncos didn’t have to use Caldwell that much.
He was targeted three times against the Texans, hauling in two catches for 12 yards.
Julius Thomas: A+
The Texans didn’t have an answer for Thomas. He was able to attack the seam, underneath routes and sideline routes on Sunday.
Thomas did a good job of looking the ball in, and he had to catch at least one pass while absorbing a big hit from the defense. His concentration helped move the ball and got the passing game on track.
We saw Peyton Manning set a new record for most touchdown passes in a single season. His 51 touchdown passes set the new mark, and it was Thomas who caught the record-breaking touchdown.
With 4:28 left in the fourth quarter Thomas hauled in a 25-yard touchdown catch down the right sideline with a defender draped all over him. The team erupted, as most knew this was the record-setting catch.
Thomas did not know it was “the” catch when it happened, as he was caught in the moment. After the game, Thomas talked about whether or not he knew that catch just established a new record:
“Absolutely not. I dropped the ball so fast to do my usual thing and Deck (WR Eric Decker) picked the ball up so fast. I was like, 'Why did Deck pick the ball up so fast?' I’m not paying any attention and I came back to the sidelines and I’m sitting down on the bench and somebody said, 'That was the one!' Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped it so carelessly, I should’ve kept it.”
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme had a larger role this week against the Texans than he did last week against the Chargers. He was targeted three times against the Texans, and he caught all three passes. Tamme finished the game with 22 yards receiving.
Joel Dreessen: C
Dreessen was used exclusively as a blocker against the Texans.
Virgil Green: C
Green was asked to block when he was on the field. He was targeted one time against the Texans. He was able to haul that pass in for an eight-yard gain.
Chris Clark: C+
Clark did a decent job against the Texans. For the most part, he was able to handle his opponent. He did draw an illegal hands to the face penalty in the third quarter. This was the Broncos' eighth penalty of the day.
Zane Beadles: C
Beadles was part of the interior line that performed poorly against the Texans. He performed better than the middle and the right side of the offensive line. Beadles did draw a false start penalty early in the first quarter.
Manny Ramirez: C-
Ramirez once again struggled against the Texans and defensive tackle J.J. Watt. He’s a powerful player, but he does not play as well when going up against a laterally agile opponent.
A first-down run by Knowshon Moreno was negated by a holding penalty on Ramirez. This penalty happened in the first quarter, and it didn’t get much better for Ramirez after that.
After the game, Ramirez talked about the difference in the first three quarters compared to the final quarter: “I think everyone understood the position we were in and wanted to play for each other. We were able to get the ball moving and the defense created turnovers, which we were able to capitalize on those turnovers. That helped us out a lot and, in the first three quarters, we hurt ourselves with the penalties and all that stuff. Whatever the situation may be, we were able to come out on top.”
Louis Vasquez: C
Vasquez has rarely struggled this season. He’s arguably been the most consistent player on the offensive line. However, Vasquez did not have a good game against the Texans.
Peyton Manning was under duress early and often on Sunday. Most of the pressure came from the right side of the offensive line.
Orlando Franklin: D
Franklin had his worst game of the season against the Texans. He struggled with edge pressure, and he especially struggled against Watt’s inside moves. When he wasn’t allowing pressure, Franklin was making mistakes before (or after) the snap.
He had a false start penalty in the second quarter. This was after he was flagged for an illegal formation penalty in the first quarter.
Shaun Phillips: C
Phillips did not make much of an impact against the Texans. He compiled two tackles (one solo) on Sunday. After Von Miller was lost to a knee injury, the team needed other pass-rushers to step up. They didn’t get that increase in production from Phillips.
Robert Ayers: B
The Broncos did get an increase in production from Ayers. After Miller went down, the Broncos let Ayers loose.
He finished the game with three tackles (all solo), one sack and one tackle for a loss. Ayers showed great hustle from the edge, and he did a good job of making Matt Schaub uncomfortable all day long.
Malik Jackson: B
Jackson continues his dominant play. He gets a consistent push up the middle, and he’s able to generate pressure to collapse the pocket.
He does a good job in one-on-one situations. However, Jackson can also split double-teams consistently.
Jackson finished the game with five tackles (four solo) and one tackle for a loss. He continues to refine his game each week, and the more experience he gets, the more productive Jackson will be.
Jeremy Mincey: C
Mincey was just added by the Broncos last week on Tuesday. This was his first game of action with his new team. He finished the game with one tackle against the Texans.
Mincey did a good job of being active on the defensive line. We’ll see if he can be more productive when he gets more experience with the Broncos.
Terrance Knighton: B
“Pot Roast” didn’t have to do it all by himself on Sunday. He took up more than one blocker regularly.
Knighton was constantly around the ball, finishing the game with three tackles (two solo) and one quarterback hit.
Sylvester Williams: B+
Another week and another sack for the Broncos’ first-round pick. Williams used a quick spin move to the inside to get a sack against Matt Schaub.
In addition to using athleticism to get to the quarterback, Williams also used brute strength. In the third quarter, he was able to shed his man quickly by essentially tossing him out of the way.
Williams has taken some time to play up to his potential. After the season-ending hip injury to Kevin Vickerson, the Broncos needed Williams to elevate his game.
He also played strong against the run. With more experience, Williams is getting better each week.
Mitch Unrein: C
Unrein is consistently effective every week as a part-time player. His blue-collar work ethic shows in the way he plays the game. He is relentless when getting after the quarterback, and he does a good job as a run defender.
Von Miller: n/a
Miller didn’t get a chance to play much against the Texans. He went down early in the first quarter with a knee injury. The severity is unknown right now, but the Broncos will run tests on Miller on Monday.
After the game, John Fox was asked if he had any updates on Miller’s injury: “No, they’ll have tests, it’s in the medical people’s hands right now. And anything until we get all of the tests will be purely speculation, so we will just wait until we hear something definitive.”
Wesley Woodyard: C
Woodyard once again played a backup role. He hasn’t been the same since a neck injury he suffered in the Week 5 game against the Cowboys. Woodyard did a good job in a part-time role as a coverage linebacker.
Danny Trevathan: A-
Trevathan was a dominant force against the Texans. He led the team in tackles with nine (seven solo), one sack, two tackles for loss, one pass defensed and one quarterback hit.
He used his speed to find the ball quickly and did a good job diagnosing plays efficiently as they unfolded in front of him.
In addition to making plays with his athleticism, Trevathan also made plays with force. One play of note came in the fourth quarter as Trevathan smashed into Deji Karim on a screen pass. He quickly and forcefully brought the ball-carrier to the ground.
Trevathan made plays in a crowd, and he also made sure tackles when in space.
Nate Irving: B
Irving was asked to do more as the team’s strong-side linebacker after Miller went down with a knee injury. He made a big hit on Dennis Johnson in the second quarter and sent a message.
He’s a big hit artist who can intimidate an opponent. Irving seemed more confident out on the field, and he was rarely out of position against the Texans.
Paris Lenon: C
Lenon did better this week against the Texans than he did last week against the Chargers. He didn’t tackle himself or overrun many plays. He did a good job of being in the right place at the right time. Lenon used his veteran savvy to put himself into the best position to make a play.
Chris Harris: A+
Harris was absolutely dominant against the Texans. He played with a swagger and swatted away a pass intended for superstar wide receiver Andre Johnson.
He finished the game with four tackles (three solo) and two passes defensed. When a player did make a catch on Harris, he did a good job of quickly wrapping up the receiver.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: B+
Rodgers-Cromartie did a fine job against the Texans on Sunday. He picked off Matt Schaub once on a deep pass. Rodgers-Cromartie was able to easily sky to get the football in the air.
He finished the game with one tackle (solo), one interception and one pass defensed. Rodgers-Cromartie didn’t see many targets thrown his way because he did a good job of locking down his man.
Champ Bailey: C
Bailey was back on the field (again) this year after missing most of the season due to a foot injury. He played as a part-time player in sub-packages for the Broncos. Bailey didn’t do much, but he did have blanket coverage on Johnson late in the game.
After the game, Bailey commented on his performance: “I feel good. I like the role I was playing. I didn’t play every snap, which is probably smart at this point. I feel good and I was just trying to do a little more each week.”
Duke Ihenacho: C
Ihenacho was once again a reserve player for the Broncos. He backed up Omar Bolden on Sunday against the Texans.
He did well during his limited number of snaps. Ihenacho had four tackles (two solo) in Week 16.
Mike Adams: A
Adams made the play that changed the momentum of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, Adams dove near the sidelines to pick off a pass from Matt Schaub. That play sparked the team to a 21-point surge in the final quarter of the game.
After the game, Adams talked about that play: “Oh yeah, I forgot who the guy was, but the receiver was running a wheel route. He stopped and I was fortunate enough to read the quarterback’s eyes and I jumped it. That definitely was a game-changer, so then we started to get things rolling from there.”
Adams finished the game with nine tackles (six solo), one interception and three passes defensed. He really elevated his game to help spark this team.
Omar Bolden: D
Bolden continues to struggle with a larger role. The team made him a starter, then watched him struggle on almost every target thrown his way.
He was burned in the third quarter by Keshawn Martin on a touchdown pass to the back corner of the end zone. It wasn’t the only busted coverage of the day by Bolden.
The team has trusted him to start, but perhaps it should reconsider after what we’ve seen from Bolden over the last two weeks.
Trindon Holliday: D
Holliday had a little extra something to prove against the team that released him last year. He played with a little more aggression, but he failed to make any impact plays.
He coughed up the rock on a return, but that fumble was not recovered by the Texans. The team pulled him from returning punts after that.
Matt Prater: A+
Prater was perfect (again) this week. He was 4-of-4 on extra points and 3-of-3 on field goals. Prater scored 13 of the Broncos’ 37 points.
Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt once again punted more than he’s used to. He had six punts for 292 yards against the Texans. Only one of his punts landed inside the Texans’ 20-yard line. His long punt of the night was 55 yards.