GAME PLAN: The Broncos played conservatively with Tim Tebow making his first start last Sunday. But the Houston secondary has been a mess all year, and if the goal truly is to win, as has been the company line for weeks, then the kid gloves in some respects have to come off for Tebow.
Houston defensive end Mario Williams won't be around to chase Tebow down, which could create some scenarios where the blitz is used to confuse the rookie and create pressure that possibly will lead to mistakes.
Tebow has the ability to squirm out of some of those situations and when he does, he needs to air it out and take advantage of the mismatches outside against raw Houston CBs Kareem Jackson and Glover Quinn covering Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney.
The 32nd-ranked Texans pass defense is allowing nearly 227 passing yards and a 65 percent completion rate.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Texans RB Arian Foster, the NFL's leading rusher, vs. a Denver defense that's given up an average of 203 rushing yards over the last three games. Foster could be a nightmare for a stop unit that not only hasn't consistently wrapped up runners in the open field but has difficulty with playing gap sound. Foster can be a deadly cut-back runner and has the power to run through arm tackles.
Broncos CB Champ Bailey, who has helped nullify the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Dwayne Bowe in recent weeks, against Texans WR Andre Johnson, who continues to rack up statistics despite a persistent ankle problem. Bailey has long been a consistent performer for Denver but his ability to play man coverage against some of the top NFL wideouts has been impressive. Johnson is the ultimate physical challenge given the size mistmatch. But Bailey's game is predicated on positioning, instincts and a late break to the ball that's still impressive this deep into his career that began in 1999.
--S Brian Dawkins (knee) returned to practice for the first time since Dec. 3. Given the long layoff, it may be asking too much for Dawkins to come back this week but the season-finale vs. San Diego appears plausible.
--WR Demaryius Thomas practiced in limited fashion to end last week but on Wednesday demonstrated he's still not moving particularly well coming off an ankle injury.
--K Matt Prater aggravated his right groin injury during a Dec. 16 practice but several more days of recovery time have him feeling well enough to give kicking field goals another try Wednesday.
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