Monday night's game is rife with storylines and implications. You've already heard enough about the return of Brock Osweiler, so I'm not going to dwell too much on that issue.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-go-premium-sports-illustr... The two key elements built into the Denver Broncos Week 7 throwdown are Conference supremacy and pulling out of the losing streak.
Houston will very likely be in contention for an AFC playoff berth. The Broncos will need the tie-breaker, and the Conference win, to bolster their postseason seeding.
The Broncos have dropped two games in a row. Dating back to 2012, they haven't lost three in a row. Every imaginable effort is being poured into staying true to that penchant and avoiding a three-game slide.
So what must the Broncos do to emerge victorious over the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football? Let's get to the keys.
Commit To The Running Game
This Broncos team can ill-afford to run the ball just 15 times in a given game, like they did last week in San Diego. The Peyton Manning days of yore, where the Broncos could not only get away with offensive imbalance but decimate the opposition through the air 40-plus times a game, are long gone.
As well as Trevor Siemian has exceeded expectations as a starter this year, he still epitomizes quarterback "inexperience". For Denver's young signal-caller to be effective, they need a productive running game.
Like most premier backs, C.J. Anderson is a rhythm runner. He has struggled behind his ineffectual offensive line, but the Broncos can't expect Anderson to get into a rhythm feeding him just 10 carries in a game. They need to double it.
Denver's defense is never going to allow a game to get out of control. Thus, there is no excuse for offensive imbalance. Siemian and company will always be within striking distance.
Getting Gary Kubiak back and involved in not only honing the game-plan, but calling the plays on Monday night should help from a design standpoint. The Texans field the No. 29 rushing defense. The Broncos have to stay committed to the running game.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719464-c-j-on-booker-no-pressure... And speaking of design, Denver has to be more creative. Over the last month, they've become obvious and predictable in their rushing attack. The Broncos will run a stretch and the running back will flow down the line of scrimmage until he sees a cut-back lane, and try to bust through.
The zone blocking scheme has always worked for Kubiak. But the play-calling must be more versatile. Throw in some hat-on-hat power runs. If the blocking flows right, let the ball go right and try and pick a gap and win at the point of attack.
What teams are doing now is squatting on Denver's cut-back lanes when they run a stretch, because there's no threat that the RB will take the ball play-side. Opposing teams are stacking the box and expecting the cut-backs.
Watch the film and you'll see it. The Broncos also have to pepper in more outside runs and counters.
Counters capitalize on a defense's aggression — they get the defense moving one way, while a guard or tackle pulls the opposite direction to lead-block for the ball-carrier. We saw both Atlanta and San Diego burn Denver in the same way.
That moment's hesitation can be the difference between a two-yard gain and explosive play. Most of the biggest runs of C.J. Anderson's career have been outside plays. A toss, or a sweep that gets Denver's athletic O-linemen, and Anderson, out in space. Remember this one?
There's no doubt that poor execution and communication have held the Broncos offense, and the running game back. But the coaches have added insult to injury by not being more innovative in their play-calling.
I'm not talking about re-inventing the wheel. I'm talking about dictating the flow of the game and keeping the defense on its heels through creativity. Kubiak has the knowledge and experience to be effective as a play-caller. Now it's time to get it done.
Siemian Must Prove His Mettle
Again, I, along with most fans and analysts, have been pleasantly surprised by Trevor Siemian's performance thus far. He struggled mightily last week, but he was injured and he wasn't getting much help from his coaches and teammates.
Here's the thing though; it's getting close to do-or-die time for Siemian. If the Broncos lose to Houston, all bets are off on Siemian keeping his job.
Siemian has been great at playing within himself and the system and relying on his supporting cast and defense to win games. He's been a good game manager — and I say that with the utmost respect.
The best quarterbacks in the business — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan — are excellent game managers. But they also have the ability to create big plays with their arm and improvise at times.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719480-kubiak-siemian-has-looked... We've seen Siemian do that once through five starts. He eclipsed 300 yards passing and threw four touchdown passes in Week 3. The Cincinnati Bengals dared Siemian to beat them over the top and he did.
San Diego often deployed an umbrella-type of quarters coverage. They wanted Siemain to dink and dunk all day long. So long as the Chargers tackled well, which they did, they were confident they could bottle up Denver's offense.
“You want to [throw it deep] but you have to play within the confines of the offense and the defense, what they’re giving you," Siemian said Friday. "Looking back last week, heck, I would have wanted to throw it 50, 60 yards down the field, but when they’ve got guys back there over the top, kind of like an umbrella, you’re not going to do that and look good. You can try it but…"
How do you loosen up the coverage over the top? By staying committed to the run, which forces the safeties into the box, and take your shots downfield with the play-action when the matchups are right.
We need to see growth from Siemian. Too often last week, he'd look at his first read and dump it off. The Broncos have two of the best receivers in the game. They can and will go up and get the ball.
Siemian's 55-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas in Week 3 wasn't off play-action, but it was a throw where the QB had to uncork early and trust that his receiver could get under it. We need to see more of this.
Peyton Manning trusted his receivers, at times, to win jump balls. Siemian must show the same belief. An NFL quarterback can't be so afraid to turn it over that he fails to challenge a defense. But that's what we saw from Siemian last week and frankly, what we've seen throughout most of this young season.
This week is very important to Siemian and the Broncos. If the Broncos lose this grudge match vs. Brock Osweiler, expect them to look long and hard at making a change at quarterback.
Siemian needs a good game and a win to keep Paxton Lynch at bay.
Put Osweiler On His Back All Night Long
As we saw in 2015, Osweiler is a statue in the pocket. He's heavy-footed and and doesn't have the greatest pocket presence (see Khalil Mack's big day in Week 15 last year).
Through six games, Houston has allowed 12 sacks. The Broncos defense has notched 19 — best in the NFL.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719536-osweiler-recounts-departu... The Texans expect to get both starting tackles back — Duane Brown and Derek Newton. But they're coming off injury.
We've heard it from linebacker Brandon Marshall, and I've been told personally, that this Broncos defense is particularly amped up for Osweiler. Many players are still sore over Osweiler's defection to Houston.
I expect to see that soreness reflected in the Broncos pass rush. The players will tell you that as professionals, they don't need any added motivation to perform on gameday.
Yeah, right. As former Houston coaches, Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips might also be a little more driven to extract their pound of flesh on Monday night. After the free agency debacle this past March, you know GM John Elway is pining for a huge win.
If the Broncos pass rush can get to Osweiler early and often, he will make mistakes. He will force throws. He will lose the ball.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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