Coming off their feel-good win of the season, the Broncos will have to head straight into the lion’s den to battle the Houston Texans, a team that just whooped the Patriots on national television.
The Broncos won and rookie quarterback Drew Lock played a solid, clean game that showed his potential for the future.
What kind of a challenge do the Texans present to Lock and the rest of the Broncos? Let’s take a look.
Dalton Risner lifting Broncos’ line
The best draft pick from Denver’s most recent draft certainly appears to be Dalton Risner.
Risner has been a Jenga piece in the Broncos’ trenches and has been their best offensive lineman from the moment he took the field. In fact, he would be most teams’ best offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus.
His overall grade of 66.0 is the second-best among all rookie linemen with at least 170 snaps, only trailing Erik McCoy of the Saints (71.8). Rather than dominating in either the run game or pass protection, Risner has been good all around. He ranks third among rookies with a pass-blocking grade of 76.3, and fourth among rookies with a run-blocking grade of 71.8.
Of the 13 rookie linemen to play at least 400 snaps (he has played 762), Risner ranks second in penalties plus pressures allowed (18), which measures the number of mistakes or bad plays a linemen makes, once again only trailing McCoy (17).
Exploit weak Houston secondary
Houston’s secondary is a patchwork of disappointing first-round castoffs, and if the Broncos want to win this game they’ll have to attack it early and often with Lock.
On an individual scale, Houston has three of the ten worst coverage corners in terms of passer rating allowed when targeted. With the newly-acquired Vernon Hargreaves and Gareon Conley tied for ninth (113.4 passer rating allowed), and rookie Lonnie Johnson ranking fourth (130.2).
They also struggle in yards per snap allowed, with three players ranking in the bottom 17. Johnson and veteran corner Jonathan Joseph are each allowing 1.37 yards per coverage snap, while Hargreaves ranks sixth-worst allowing 1.53 yards per coverage snap.
On a team scale, the numbers don’t get any more favorable for Houston. PFF ranks them seventh-worst as a team in coverage (52.0), behind the likes of the Raiders, Lions and Bucs. That’s also the lowest coverage grade of any team with a winning record by 13.1 points.
Can Lock build on his first game with an even better second career start?
Texans have weapons galore
Shutting down the Houston Texans’ explosive offense is an incredibly tall order, and one not even the Broncos’ defense is up for.
As a team, Houston has the eighth-highest graded passing attack, and the third-highest graded receiving weapons in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Football Outsiders backs those numbers up, ranking the Texans eighth in total offensive DVOA and seventh in passing offensive DVOA.
The Texans also have three of the 30 highest-graded receivers in Deandre Hopkins, Kenny Stills and Will Fuller.
Hopkins is undeniably the star of the group, ranking fourth in the league in receiving grade, second in receptions, tenth in reception percentage, second in first down conversions and seventh in receiving touchdowns.
If the Broncos want to hang around in this game, they’ve got to slow down Houston’s receivers.