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Broncos at Texans: The No Bull Review

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The Denver Broncos absolutely smoked the Houston Texans on Sunday. Here are my thoughts, opinions, and analysis on game, Drew Lock, and what this says about the future of the team.

Holy Linus Yale, Sr. Batman!

What a fun game to watch as a fan of the Denver Broncos this was! It is so good to see the team play this well on both sides of the ball and have the script go the way it should when your team jumps out to a big lead and plays the right way to finish strong.

It has been a long, long time since we’ve seen the Broncos just absolutely smoke someone like that. The only way it could have been better would have been if it could have come against Kansas City or New England.

Let’s dig into a very positive No Bull Review for a change this season.

Offense

NFL: Denver Broncos-Training Camp Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I feel like I’ve been talking up Rich Scangarello’s schemes all year long and this was the big breakout where we saw a grandiose glimpse of what he’s capable of doing with an offense that can execute his designs properly. I really, REALLY loved what I saw offensively being done to expose the Houston Texans on Sunday. For the first time in what seems like a decade (though more likely a few years), the offense planned precisely to take advantage of what the defense was gearing up to take away and if left Romeo Crennel with absolutely no answers as his game plan went into the trash can.

The Texans predictably geared up to stop the Broncos run game completely and then take away Courtland Sutton on offense. Scangarello used that against them and went with play action early and often to expose the defense’s weakness in the secondary and get big play after big play.

I’m sure some of the other guys are going to really dig in this week on some of this, but here are a couple of plays that really stuck out to me. One of our bigger plays to Fant used misdirection to the outside flat with the QB acting like he was going to dump it off while Fant blocked, then it had Fant roll right up the middle of the field with a short dump off to him for a huge gain. Another design that impressed was the TD at the end of the 1st half. There Scangarello used Spencer to make the defense think the play was going outside to the left and then ran play action off of that to hit Freeman wide open in the flat to the right. The whole defense bit on the speedy receiver coming out of the backfield and Lock had two guys wide open for an easy TD (and he smartly chose the easier throw).

Remember, Broncos Country: the local media in Denver oftentimes drums up nonsense because they need something to talk about. There was NO point during this season where the Denver Broncos were sour on the scheming Scangarello was doing. He’s been getting better and better all season long and he’s shown with three different quarterbacks with varied different shortcomings that he can get this offense to be productive. As this team grows into this offense and gets some veteran chops (most of the offense is super young if that hasn’t been pointed out yet), the sky is honestly the limit for what this offense will be capable of doing on game day.

Quarterbacks

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Lock had a coming out party against the hapless Texan defense. His first throw was an absolute laser to Fant and had the kind of heat on it I haven’t seen from a Bronco QB since Jay Cutler. Lock followed it up with another heater to seal the drive with a TD a few plays later which really impressed me with the accuracy of the throw. In the 2nd quarter, he dropped a dime 20 yards downfield to Tim Patrick for a 3rd down conversion. I liked the flea flicker play and that Lock smartly ran the ball when it wasn’t there. He ran again for a 1st down later on the drive facing 3rd and 4 showing the ability to move the chains with his feet.

Reading all these little one liners I noted during the game can be summed up as follows: Drew Lock showed almost every type of throw you want to see from a QB in the NFL...outside, inside, with heat, with touch, and also showed the ability to smartly run efficiently with the ball when needed.

While I’m not completely nutso about Lock and ready to crown him the next great Bronco QB, I’m super stoked to watch him grow and I do think he’s got the kind of talent a team can go all in on to try and develop. Yes, I’m saying that after two games. The raw skill set this quarterback has shown in two games is enough for my eyes to tell me this young man has serious potential.

Line

We went into this game without Ron Leary and with a plan to play Ja’Wuan James only half of the game. What we saw this week is that the team luckily faced a defense that didn’t have much of a pass rush and that this line can handle things just fine in that situation.

NFL: SEP 09 Broncos at Raiders Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I honestly think Austin Schlottmann did a pretty admirable job as a backup stepping in and being an effective guard. I’m not so sure I’d be saying the same thing if J.J. Watt had been healthy for this match-up of course.

Running Backs

The game plan didn’t call for a focus on the run game and the Texans were well ready to stop it. Phillip Lindsay got a great TD run to start the 2nd half. The team did enough to keep the Texans respecting the run. That’s about all the platitudes we can give the backs. They were below average running as far as YPC carry go with an overall team average of 3.3 yards (this would have been far worse had Lock not bumped their average up some). They also really had no impact in the passing game as receivers.

Receivers

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Noah Fant ran a great route and used his body to block out the defender for a huge play to open the game. He then showed a great deal of concentration as he cradled the first TD of the game with his man parts as he went to the ground. This is another young guy on the team who is just oozing with potential. What I’m most encouraged about with Fant is how I’m seeing his technique develop as the weeks roll by in this season. His route running is getting sharp, his hands are more reliable, and he’s starting to apply positioning and technique to what he’s doing as a TE.

Sutton getting sneaky good plays as the offense was focused on the other options on offense. I really loved the quick slant to get a 1st down deep in the red zone. It was an easy pitch and catch from Lock to Sutton that took advantage of the off coverage outside technique by the corner covering Sutton.

Also, how about Andrew Beck and Jeff Heuerman chipping in with big plays in the passing game? Having your back up guys pop off for big gains like they did is the kind of thing that is going to get Sutton more one on one match ups if the Broncos can keep being effective in these kind of chunk plays from their depth receivers.

DaeSean Hamilton caught a nice crosser route and gained a big 20+ yard gain which is the kind of play we want to see from him as the speedy #3 WR on the team. Hopefully he can keep contributing like this and grow more consistent.

Defense

Houston was always going to get a good chunk of points. Deshaun Watson is too good of a QB to hold down especially as the game is winding down. Giving up 24 points in the scenario of this game was not that big of a deal to me given what I know about the weaknesses of our defense.

I think the thing I liked most about the game Vic Fangio called was how the defense really played stout against chunk plays and made the Texans burn clock in the 2nd half. I thought Fangio also mixed in enough blitzes to keep Watson honest.

Front 7

Alexander Johnson great job forcing the big fumble early in the game. This defense would be a shadow of itself if he hadn’t stormed onto the scene this season. He’s a powerful, yet fluid linebacker who is able to play at a high level in today’s NFL.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Attaochu had a really solid game for a backup OLB. On the game changing fumble, he was very smart to hand the ball off to Jackson when the defender got his leg wrapped up. He also got a sack when Watson held the ball too long and he was able to get around the RT.

Secondary

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Kareem Jackson absolutely lit up Hopkins on an ill advised throw by Watson in the 1st quarter. The timing was absolutely perfect and the kind of hit fans of good defense miss seeing in the NFL. Really, he easily had his best game as a Bronco. He had 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, and 3 pass defenses. That’s an absolute monster stat line for a strong safety.

Simmons great pass defense in 4th quarter playing man to man. He ended the day with 3 PDs just like Jackson.

It isn’t necessarily Chris Harris Jr.’s fault, but the team got smoked for another crosser that CHJ passed off and the receiver didn’t get picked up by anyone else across the whole field.

Special Teams

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon McManus had a nice game with a field goal and 5 PATs. The importance of that field goal in the 2nd half can’t be overstated though. This team has had such a hard time scoring in the 2nd half that it was refreshing to see them have even a little success in finishing a scoring drive.

Final Thoughts

What a refreshing, encouraging win for the Broncos. For a team that is now only 5 - 8, they are building a winning culture. The coaches know how to coach. The players trust the coaches. The team is developing a strong offensive and defensive scheme. The needle is pointing up for this team.

Next week we play a division rival that we haven’t beaten in years at their house in December. I don’t find it incredibly likely that the Broncos will be able to pull off the victor, but I can tell you for sure I won’t be surprised if they do.