The Houston Texans take on the Denver Broncos Sunday at 12:00 p.m. Central Time from NRG Stadium for Week 9.
Denver represents a pseudo-playoff environment with both teams at 6-5 and needing a win to stay in the AFC Wild Card picture. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Russell Wilson have piloted one of the most improbable winning streaks in recent NFL history.
How exactly did the Broncos rescue themselves from the cellar of the NFL like the Texans did? What was their formula?
To preview Week 13, Jon Heath from the Broncos Wire answer some questions about the Texans’ big opportunity at home.
The Broncos were left for dead at the start of the 2023 season - can you explain how they've gotten back to 6-5? What's the formula?
Jon Heath: Denver had a lot of issues at the beginning of the year, some of which were out of their control, such as injuries. The defense had a huge turnaround after safety Justin Simmons and outside linebacker Baron Browning returned from injuries (the Broncos are 5-0 with Browning on the field this year). Their formula has been eating clock with a productive running game on offense while forcing turnovers on defense. Their turnover rate is probably not sustainable, but they can continue to protect the ball on offense with QB Russell Wilson leading an efficient attack. C.J. Stroud has done a really good job protecting the ball this season, so it will be interesting to see if Denver’s secondary can force him into any mistakes on Sunday.
Russell Wilson is seemingly having a career resurgence with Sean Payton. Is this due to his own improvement, strong offensive infrastructure, or a little bit of both?
JH: Probably some of both, but I think a lot of it is due to Sean Payton tailoring the offense to Wilson’s strengths. For whatever reason, Nathaniel Hackett seemingly wanted Wilson to be more of a pocket passer last year, and that didn’t work out well. This season, Payton has given Wilson more freedom to run (both designed runs and improvising) and Wilson is now just two carries and 11 rushing yards away from matching his rushing totals in 2022. Wilson is excellent on the move. Payton has also implemented a run-heavy attack that takes some pressure off Wilson, and a lot of his throws are high-percentage passes not far from the line of scrimmage. Wilson still has a beautiful deep “moon ball,” but he’s been relatively conservative this season, leading to the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL (20-4). Wilson seems much more comfortable in Payton’s offense than he was last year.
Houston fans are so curious to see where Patrick Surtain lines up on Sunday. Any predictions as to whether he covers Nico Collins or Tank Dell?
JH: It will probably fluctuate some based on where Collins and Dell line up on a given play. The Broncos do not often have “PS2” trail a single receiver, so he might spend some time in coverage against both Collins on Dell on Sunday. Surtain plays on the outside so if Dell (or Collins) ever line up in the slot, they will likely be matched up against slot cornerback Ja’Quan McMillian or safety P.J. Locke. Stroud seems like a very smart QB, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t test Surtain often on Sunday — but PS2 can only cover one player at once.
Outside of Surtain, what should Houston fans be worried about on defense going up against their star rookie quarterback?
Name your prediction for the game -- who wins and why?
JH: This game seems like a toss-up. The Broncos are red-shot, but the Texans are playing at home. It wouldn’t surprise me if Denver manages to pull off an upset on the road, but my official prediction is a close win for Houston. The Broncos’ turnover luck will run out at some point on defense, and Wilson’s on a five-game stretch without an interception on offense. If the Texans can jump out with points early and take away Denver’s rushing attack, Houston could have the edge. Texans 24, Broncos 23.