Denver Broncos grind out gritty win but must address several concerns going forward

NFL: Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
Sep 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) reacts to a first down in the third quarter against the Houston Texans at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos improved to 1-1 on the season after a 16-9 victory against the Houston Texans.

Despite the win, the Broncos offense struggled with finishing in the red zone, penalties, and unfortunately an injury to a key player. However, when they needed it the most, Russell Wilson and the offense answered big in the fourth quarter.

Denver Broncos offense struggles

The Broncos offense struggled to get things rolling during the first half against the Texans.

In the first quarter, Jerry Jeudy landed awkwardly on his shoulder while attempting to haul in a pass from Russell Wilson.

Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain left the game in the second quarter as well with a shoulder injury.

Both players did not return.

Jeudy’s absence left a void at receiver for the Broncos who were already down KJ Hamler heading into Sunday’s game.

In the first half, Denver’s offense accumulated 178 total yards but struggled on third down, going 2-7.

The red zone was problematic once again for the Broncos who went 0-2 in the first half.

Boos birds rang out at Empower Field at Mile High.

To open the second half, Texans linebacker Christian Kirksey intercepted Russell Wilson resulting in Houston field goal after the Denver defense held up on the goal line.

The Broncos trailed 9-6 with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter, needing a productive offensive drive.

Courtland Sutton came up big on 4th and 2, hauling in a catch with Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. in coverage.

The Broncos ran several more plays before failing to pick up a 3rd and 2 off the right side.

Pondering a decision to go for it or kick a field goal, the Broncos wasted too much time on the play clock that negated a 54-yard FG by Brandon McManus due to a delay of game penalty.

A resounding theme on the day, flag on the play.

That was one of Denver’s 13 penalties on the day.

With the defense forcing a Texans three and out, the Broncos offense needed a score.

Facing a 3rd and 16, Wilson connected with Sutton for 35 yards to move the Broncos into favorable field position.

Wilson then found tight end Eric Saubert up the seam for a touchdown with a Texans defender draped in coverage, giving the Broncos a 13-9 lead.

Late in the fourth quarter, McManus booted in a 50-yard field goal to give Denver a 16-9 lead.

Broncos defense comes up big

The outcome of the game would be in the defense’s hands.

Davis Mills and the Texans offense drove downfield with two big passing plays across the middle, but the Broncos defense buckled down.

Randy Gregory roared off the edge, sacking Mills and forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Texans.

Facing a 4th and 15, Mills attempted to connect with Nico Collins but the pass was too high, falling incomplete.

Denver took over possession, running three straight run plays, forcing the Texans to use all their timeouts.

The Texans offense would get one more chance after Denver punted it away with :53 seconds remaining.

Facing a 4th and 11, Mills had one more chance but tight coverage from the Broncos forced an incomplete pass allowing Denver to hang on for the win.

A win is a win, but the Broncos have a lot of areas they need to clean up as a whole.

The defense came up big for Denver all day long, limiting the Texans to 2-13 on third down, not allowing a single touchdown, and getting after the quarterback when needed.

Dre’Mont Jones shined with two sacks on the afternoon, and Randy Gregory came up with a momentum-shifting sack late in the fourth quarter that pushed the Texans offense back.

On the day, the Broncos defense limited the Texans offense to 234 total yards, 80 on the ground and 154 yards through the air.

Safety P.J. Locke said the defense holds themselves to a certain standard.

“No matter how tight things got there throughout the game, we hold our ourselves to a certain standard,” Locke said.

For the secondary, communication was a key for them all week long.

After Surtain left Sunday’s win with a shoulder injury, rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis was called upon to step in.

Mathis registered five tackles on the day but had a key pass breakup in the red zone forcing Brandin Cooks out of bounds and preventing a touchdown.

Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett said the rookie stepped up.

“The thing about Damarri is it’s not too big for him,” Hackett said in his postgame press conference. “I think you saw that here today, being a rookie, going out there and just executing at a high level.”

Now Denver will await further information on the injury of Surtain.

Denver Broncos news and notes

Broncos Injury Report:
Patrick Surtain (shoulder): did not return
Jerry Jeudy (shoulder): did not return

Prior to kickoff, the Broncos gameday inactives were the following players:
Wide receiver KJ Hamler
Wide receiver Jalen Virgil
Inside linebacker Josey Jewell
Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto
Offensive tackle Billy Turner
Offensive guard Quinn Meinerz
Defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike

Jewell went through pregame warmups and appeared to move well, but it’s likely the team prefers to get him back at practice this week for next Sunday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.

Montrell Washington’s role could increase with Jeudy injury

Rookie wide receiver Montrell Washington shined on special teams in the return game.

The shifty rookie had some electric moments during the Broncos win averaging 14.8 yards per return on four returns.

Earlier in the first quarter, Washington sprung an impressive run on an end-around play that went for 19 yards, but was partially called back due to a holding call.

With uncertainty surrounding the timetable with Jerry Jeudy, Washington could see an increase in offensive utilization heading into Week 3.

During Sunday’s win, Washington saw one target on a potential touchdown grab but couldn’t manage to get both feet inbounds.

Denver is back on the practice field this week in hopes of shoring up their red zone offense before the San Francisco 49ers come to town.

A win is a win, but the Broncos have a lot of areas they need to clean up.

Penalties were the story once again, but clock management and issues in the red zone have to be addressed going forward as the Broncos will face several tough tests in the coming weeks against the San Francisco 49ers, Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and Los Angeles Chargers in the next four games.

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