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Offensive line, fiery defense fuel Broncos' win streak

Denver7 keys to upsetting Texans include preventing deep strikes, letting Russ cook in red zone
Browns Broncos Football
Posted at 8:38 PM, Dec 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-01 23:24:33-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Making history requires chemistry. The Broncos aim to become the fifth team to start 1-5 and reach the playoffs.

A sticky-fingered defense remains the driving force in the five-game winning streak, producing a plus-13 turnover margin. The Broncos began to realize a month ago that given the number of takeaways they were producing, there was a clear path to win if they did not give it away.

They feature an efficient offense based on a physical run game. The Broncos have rushed for 605 yards during the streak, including a season-high 169 against the Cleveland Browns.

The offensive line deserves credit for its improvement and health. The Broncos have used the same five starters for every game — nearly every snap — leaving the group bonding more quickly than expected.

“We’ve been building that chemistry with the guy next to you. And we feel like anybody who would have to step up would,” said center Lloyd Cushenberry, who has posted the best season of his career. “But having the same five guys out there (almost every play this year) is huge. It is very underrated part of it.”

From left to right, the group of left tackle Garett Bolles, left guard Ben Powers, Cushenberry, right guard Quinn Meinerz and right tackle Mike McGlinchey has become close through meetings, dinners and conversations.

The Broncos made fixing their line a top priority last March, guaranteeing Powers and McGlinchey $81 million in free agency. While pass blocking was clunky early, the Broncos have improved as the play-calling evolved to a more physical attack. It seemed counterintuitive to pass 132 times and run 84 over the first month.

Over the past seven games, Denver has rushed 202 times compared to 187 pass attempts, only failing to reach 100 yards on the ground one time.

With the season feeling like it’s on the line every Sunday, the O-line embraces the challenge, and will likely need to have its best game in pass protection.

The stakes are high. With a win, the Broncos’ playoff odds are roughly 50 percent and plunge to around 15 percent with a loss. The improvement upfront remains one of the Denver7 keys to the Broncos upsetting the Texans:

Stay Patient on Ground

Texans coach DeMeco Ryans has crafted a defense in his image: aggressive, fast, punishing. The Texans rank eighth against the run, allowing 95.1 yards per game.

Cleveland was also top 10, and the Broncos found seams. That might be more difficult Sunday, but it remains necessary to set up play action against a young secondary. One big play to Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy or Marvin Mims Jr. could be the difference.

In the Zone

Everything about Houston’s C.J. Stroud is different. The rookie quarterback is more accurate than a DNA test and has earned the complete trust of his coaches, who let him unleash deep rainbows. He boasts 31 completions of at least 20 yards and 10 of at least 30 yards.

Jacksonville countered with zone coverage to allow for underneath completions, while preventing over-the-top strikes. I would not be surprised if the Broncos mixed in plenty of zone as well while tempting Stroud to try and beat ballhawk safety Justin Simmons.

Take it Away

The Broncos are on an all-time heater when it comes to turnovers. They have produced 16 takeaways over the past five games, including 10 fumble recoveries.

File that last number away. I do not expect Stroud to throw an interception. But he will hold onto the ball in an attempt to make plays. He has lost five fumbles.

Wouldn’t it be something if one of his former college teammates – Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper – delivered a scoop and score like they did to Ohio State friend Justin Fields?

Red Line in Red Zone

Russell Wilson has rebounded like Dennis Rodman this season. He is the first Broncos quarterback with 20 passing touchdowns in a season since Peyton Manning in 2014. No one has been better in the red zone as Wilson boasts 17 scores and no interceptions.

The Broncos can win close games with offensive hiccups if Wilson continues to play his best when it matters most. Wilson has not averaged 200 yards during the streak. But Houston yields 252 in the air, 27th in the league. This represents a game where Wilson will likely be asked to do more in a hostile environment.

Tackle the Issue

Houston plays with the type of competitiveness that jumps off the TV. Once young and surprising, now the Texans are just good.

Running back Devin Singletary had a limited impact against Jacksonville but produced 280 rushing yards over the past three with nine catches. The Broncos cannot afford to miss tackles on Singletary if he becomes the new safety valve with tight end Dalton Schultz out with a hamstring injury. Stroud and Schultz have developed a clear connection, so his absence is a big deal.

Return of Marvin

Rookie Marvin Mims Jr. has received more playing time the past two weeks, but it has not translated to a big play. This could be the week he makes his mark on special teams.

The Texans yield 6.1 yards on punt returns, fourth best. Will they challenge Mims, the league leader, who will be playing in front of roughly 30 family members and friends?

Kick in the Pants

Wil Lutz won AFC special teams player of the month for his excellence. He has been consistent and clutch, making 16 of 17 games during the streak. He’s been dealing with a right hip issue but it should not impact his performance.

The Broncos will need Lutz to be perfect to post their third road win and move into the sixth spot in the AFC with five games remaining.

Troy’s Prediction: Broncos 22, Texans 20