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Broncos’ offense will need to be near perfect to get past Texans

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Or it could be a former Bronco whose new team ends up with the W on Sunday.

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning Broncos Country!

The Demaryius Thomas-less Denver Broncos will be at home Sunday to take on the Houston Texans, a once 0-3 team that went on a five-win run to become one of the toughest teams to beat in the NFL right now.

And how the Texans turned around their 2018 season after what seemed a dire start, is a page the Broncos should steal out of the Texans’ playbook - shoring up the run defense and improving along the offensive line.

Battle Red Blog writer Matt Burnham noted that the Texans’ defense is third in the NFL in rush yards allowed per attempt at 3.6.

“Teams are not moving the chains as efficiently with their ground games, and they’re forced to pass,” he wrote. “The Texans’ defense isn’t being forced to stay on the field because the other team is not milking the clock.”

On the other side of the ball, the Texans’ O-line is “dead last” in the league in quarterback hits, giving up 71. The next best team has allowed 63 QB hits.

“A quarterback running for his life will be put in a position where he has to rush throws because he doesn’t have time to go through his reads and allow receivers to run the routes or let plays develop,” Burnham said, adding that Texans running back Lamar Miller has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing games thanks to an improved O-line. Deshaun Watson has also enjoyed some extra time in the pocket, only being hit six times and sacked once in the last two games.

It’s also worth noting that those two improvements for the Texans also mitigate a few of the Broncos strengths - its running game and its own pass rush defense.

If Phillip Lindsay and Devontae Booker have a tough day scrounging up yards, forcing Case Keenum to throw more often, the outcome could be a worst-case scenario for the Broncos offense.

And if the Broncos defense can’t hold Lamar Miller to far fewer than his 100+ yards each the past two games - or stop Demaryius Thomas from torching Bradley Roby for a score or two - it’s going to be another long day for the defense.

“When you watch this team in the last five weeks, it’s really based on playing great defense, taking the ball away and running the football with Lamar] Miller,” Vance Joseph said. “He’s had two back-to-back 100-yard games, so that’s been there for them. They’re well-coached and they play with great energy, the entire team. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Chris Harris Jr. says he’s never felt better at this point in the season than he does right now.

And that’s a very good thing considering he’s one of the only truly reliable corners in the Broncos’ secondary right now.

“I’m ready for everybody, anybody that I’ve got to see,” Harris Jr. said. “You know D.T. is going to want to come up here and prove us wrong why we traded him and make big plays. So, we’ve got to stop that.”

Su’a Cravens will return from IR to help out in the secondary - a much-needed addition to the unit especially with Darian Stewart still out.

“We have ballers everywhere on defense. I just feel like we’re not making every play that we should make. We’re leaving a lot of plays out there and a lot of our games have come down to one score,” Cravens said. “Hopefully, I can be the one that comes in and picks up those plays that we’re missing on and that’s what we need to get this ball rolling.

Lindsay has shown he’s up to the task of beating the opponent.

Earning his third nomination this season for Rookie of the Week based on his performance last week against the Chiefs - tallying 95 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards and scoring a rushing TD - Lindsay is ready to capitalize on his starting role if Royce Freeman is still out or limited with an injury.

The bigger question mark will be the quarterback.

Case Keenum has thrown 10 TD passes and 10 INTs. Like last week, if Keenum takes sacks that push the Broncos out of field goal range or gives the ball away via interception, the chances of winning are extremely low.

Much of the onus will fall to the offensive line - anchored by Garett Bolles and Max Garcia on the left and Billy Turner and Connor McGovern on the right - but a large part will be on Keenum to get rid of the ball quickly since Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will be looking for blood.

“I’ve seen firsthand how good [J.J. Watt] is and the game-wrecker that he can be,” Keenum said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us as an offense.”

But that may only pale in comparison to its defense that will be battling a red-hot Deshaun Watson, who is starting to look like he’s back to his own game-wrecking ways after having surgery for a torn ACL a year ago.

With DeAndre Hopkins and now DT as big targets, there’s a very good chance Watson will be breaking an NFL record at Mile High on Sunday. He’ll be the third player in NFL history with at least 35 touchdowns through 16 games (behind Dan Marino and Kurt Warner).

Although I’m rooting for the Broncos to defy the odds and beat the Texans at home, I won’t be mad if that 35th touchdown pass is between Watson and Thomas.

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