The Denver Broncos are looking to extend their win streak from five in a row to six on Sunday when they take on the Houston Texans. However, Sunday’s matchup will arguably be the Broncos’ biggest test of the season.

Denver Broncos face toughest challenge yet on Sunday

In the Broncos five-game winning streak, they’ve dismantled the likes of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, a previously red-hot Minnesota Vikings team, and the previously 7-3 Cleveland Browns.

Sean Payton and his team have demonstrated confidence and resiliency after a 1-5 start. With the odds stacked against them, they’ve rattled off five straight games, serving up a tone-changer on the year.

On Sunday, Denver will face their toughest challenge yet when they take on Texans rookie quarterback CJ Stroud and first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans. With both teams slotted at 6-5, the stakes are high for each of them.

Denver’s 3-4 conference record is their biggest blemish ahead of Sunday’s game. A win against the Texans gives them a .500 conference record and a tiebreaker over Houston in the AFC Wildcard race.

It’s not that the Texans are a team that Denver hasn’t faced yet; the Broncos have beaten some very good teams this season. The reality is that the stakes are even higher for Denver with six remaining games, and their room for error is very minimal.

Broncos offense could air it out vs. Texans defense

Throughout Denver’s five-game winning streak, Russell Wilson and the offense haven’t necessarily aired it out from a game-planning standpoint. Sean Payton’s emphasis has focused on establishing a balance between Denver’s rushing offense and throwing the ball.

Wilson’s been calculated and efficient in that department despite not throwing for a significant amount of air yards. They’ve also faced some of the NFL’s toughest defenses, featuring Green Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Cleveland.

The Texans also feature a stingy defense that has been effective against the run this season.

  • Texans run defense is allowing only 95.1 rushing yards per game, ranking 8th in the NFL.
  • Houston’s defense is allowing 347.6 yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL.

Here are some of the areas the Broncos can look to attack on Sunday.

  • Houston is allowing opposing offenses to air it out for 252.5 passing yards per game, ranking 27th in the NFL.
  • On third down, the Texans are allowing opposing offenses to convert on 42.2% on third down.
  • Houston is also allowing 5.46 yards per play, which ranks 24th in the NFL.

Denver’s offense has drastically improved on third down this season, including converting 6-of-14 attempts last week against the Browns. While Houston’s secondary features a stingy cornerback with Derek Stingley Jr., their overall depth at corner is limited.

If Houston allocates resources defensively to limit the big play capability of Courtland Sutton, some of Denver’s other receivers like Marvin Mims, Jerry Jeudy, and Brandon Johnson could be in line for big performances if called upon.

Protection for Wilson in the pocket has held up over the course of the last few games for the Broncos offense, and the offensive line has played consistently better in the run-blocking department.

If Denver can establish true balance on Sunday, they’ll have a chance to march into Houston and extend their win streak.

Broncos defense has to pressure CJ Stroud

CJ Stroud is having an electrifying season as a rookie, surpassing all expectations that most had surrounding the Texans prior to the season.

Stroud (3,266) stands behind Washington Commanders QB Sam Howell (3339) in terms of leading the league in passing yards. On top of that, Stroud is completing passes at a rate of 63.7% and has a passer rating of 100.8.

He doesn’t get hesitant in the pocket, even with pressure bearing down on him. His elusiveness and escapability have allowed him and the Texans offense to find success throwing on the run and in scramble drill situations, linking up with top receiving options like Nico Collins and Tank Dell.

Patrick Surtain, Ja’Quan McMillian, Fabian Moreau, Justin Simmons, and P.J. Locke will be crucial this week if Denver hopes to leave Houston with a win.

Aside from the secondary and their coverage, Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning will have to impact the Texans’ offense by getting after Stroud, followed by the rotation of Nik Bonitto and Drew Sanders. Stroud has been sacked 27 times this season, which ranks tied for 16th in the NFL.

Coming off of a heartbreaking loss last week to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston will look to be aggressive early on. While rushing the passer and playing tight coverage will be key for Denver on Sunday, they’ll also have to account for stopping the Texans’ offense from running the football.

Entering Sunday’s matchup, the Texans offense is averaging 98.7 yards per game on the ground, ranking 24th this season. However, Dameon Pierce’s recent return to the offense is worth monitoring.

He’s a big, physical, and bruising style of rusher and can create problems for Denver despite not once hitting the 100-yard mark on the ground this season.

Devin Singletary, on the other hand, is a little bit more of an explosive option, averaging 4.1 yards per carry this season and having gone over the 100-yard rushing mark twice this season. He’s coming off of a limited performance in the Texans’ loss against the Jaguars this past Sunday, where he had six carries for 18 yards but had an effective showing out of the backfield as a receiver, hauling in six catches on seven targets for 54 yards.

Houston’s offense ranks in the top ten in several major statistical categories:

  • 374.9 yards per game, which ranks 6th.
  • 5.80 yards per play, which ranks 5th.
  • 23.5 points per game, which ranks 10th.
  • 276.2 passing yards per game, which ranks 2nd.
  • Stroud has only had five passes intercepted this season, ranking 2nd.
  • Houston has given away the football only 11 times this year, ranking 5th.
  • Texans convert on 3rd down at a rate of 44.0%, ranking 6th.

On the other hand, the Broncos defense has been on an upward trend over the course of the last five weeks, leading to a significant turnaround. They rank first in the league in total takeaways with 22 total.

If Vance Joseph and Denver’s defense can ramp up the pressure and continue to generate takeaways, the Broncos will have a great shot at leaving Sunday’s game with a win and possibly find themselves sitting in an AFC Wildcard spot going into Week 14.