The Denver Broncos got their second win of the preseason Saturday night in a close contest with the Houston Texans. A late touchdown pass from Trevor Siemian with just 1:50 left in the game sealed the 14-10 victory.

Throughout the contest three key factors jumped out. The Broncos were able to bring pressure from every level of the defense and created big plays that ended drives for the Texans. On offense, the team was able to run the ball well with multiple players for the second game in a row and the offensive line showed vast improvement on both the starting and second-string.

Wade Phillips return to the team as the defensive coordinator was a bold move regardless of the close relationships with the rest of the staff. Phillips had been out of football and was believed to be finished coaching the game. His return brought back the idea of blitzing often and from every position.

Although the team didn’t match the seven sacks they recorded in Seattle, they once again were successful getting to the quarterback from the nose tackle all the way to the safety. They finished the night with five sacks, five quarterback hits and double digit hurries which forced the Texans to punt in their first six possessions. Von Miller may have said it best when he described the defense this year, as compared to last, after the game Saturday.

“I think more with Coach Phillips; we just don’t sit around and wait for stuff to happen. We had a lot of good players last year so it’s easier to sit back and try to wait for somebody to make a play. With Coach Phillips, you going to go out there and manufacture a play, and that’s what I like about the defense.”

The backup outside linebackers, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, once again showed that they are ready to fill in for DeMarcus Ware and Miller when need be and looked extremely good at getting after the quarterback. Both players had two quarterback hurries; Barrett had one sack while Ray was awarded a half sack. Some penalties negated some big plays like Barrett’s second sack but Ray also had some nice pressures and a pass tipped at the line.

The pressure didn’t just come from the edges either. Darius Kilgo, the Broncos rookie late draft pick, once again showed that he can stuff the run and use his size to collapse the pocket. He made two tackles and got a sack by purely bull rushing the center and grabbing onto the quarterback. The starting nose tackle, Sylvester Williams also had an impressive spin move that turned into a big sack and backup defensive end, Chuka Ndulue, recorded one as well.

Lastly, the secondary contributed to the pass rush for the second week. David Bruton Jr. came untouched on a blitz in the second half and Tom Savage turned around just in time to get hit by the safety. He completed the throw but only for a short gain. Cornerback Kayvon Webster also got his first sack of the season in the first half on a blitz from the left side. Like Bruton, he was untouched and created a 3rd and 17 for the Texans, essentially ending their drive. It was a night in which the defense again dominated but penalties negated even more big plays. Head coach Gary Kubiak was pleased with the multiple areas of attack from the defense Saturday.

“Coming from everywhere, that’s the good thing. We’re a very consistent defense,” Kubiak said shortly after the game. “I think we’re deep on defense, and that’s a good thing. We’ll keep fresh people on the field, and hopefully we can stay after the quarterback.”

The Broncos offense came out in a familiar look Saturday but it may have surprised some. The first play from scrimmage was a spread shotgun look, much like the one John Fox and Adam Gase ran the past few seasons. While the passing game seemed forced at times and uncharacteristic of the practices at training camp, the run game was encouraging for the second straight game.

The team ran the ball exceptionally well for the majority of the night behind three of the team’s four running backs. They gained 114 rushing yards as a group and averaged 5.42 yards per carry. C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson all averaged over six yards per carry. Hillman led the team in carries and average on the evening at eight for 6.8 per play. Kubiak has liked the progress of Hillman, who at the start of camp, was a possible cut by late August.

“He’s moved himself up. He’s had a really good camp. He’s the guy in the group that has a little bit different – I don’t want to say talent; you know what I mean – the gear to get the ball to the edge so he’s responded, he’s had a really good camp,” Kubiak said. “He deserves more reps and he’s playing like that he’s going to continue to get some more. But I thought all of them ran the ball pretty good with the opportunities that they had.”

The Broncos will have to make a tough decision when it comes to one of these four players and Saturday it looked like Montee Ball was the odd man out. He simple could not get anything going on his four carries and hasn’t looked explosive in two preseason games. After Hillman’s performance it appears that the last roster spot will come down to Ball of Thompson and the competition remains very close.

Lastly, after a fairly good debut for three out of the five starting lineman last week, the unit showed improvement Saturday. Ty Sambrailo, Matt Paradis and Max Garcia looked stellar Saturday outside of a few small mistakes and miscues. The team as a whole was very good in pass protection against the Texans. The entire team did not give up a sack and only had one quarterback hit. That one hit was costly as a blitzing linebacker rushed untouched and pressured Brock Osweiler into throwing an interception for a touchdown. However, overall they kept on their blocks in the running game and gave Peyton Manning and the other two quarterback plenty of time in the pocket.

“I thought they did a good job. Like I said, we did some no huddle things and communication on the road, for a lot our first time starters, those guys were poised out there,” Manning said Saturday. “I thought the protection was good the whole time I was in there and we’ve always said that if you can do some no huddle you have a chance to tire out the defense and hopefully slowed down their pass rush.”

Sambrailo in particular, showed some athleticism in getting to the second level of the defense to block on rushing plays and even got out to the wide receivers on a few screen passes. His smaller size and youth appeared to have helped him in that area Saturday and may suit this team’s offensive scheme this season. After the game he commented on the line’s growth over the first two games.

“I feel like, just kind of as a unit, we’ve become a little more calm and kind of know what to expect from each other and how the game feels. I think we made some uncharacteristic mistakes early, in terms of penalties and just little miscues here and there that we kind of hurt ourselves more than anything they were doing to us. So I think just kind of cleaning those up and continuing to get better.”

The Broncos won their second game of the preseason and showed growth across the board. That is what preseason is for. While penalties stifled the team on both sides of the ball, they outplayed their opponents for the second straight game. Kubiak and Co. have come a long way in a few short months. As cuts loom over the team the third week of preseason will be telling. This Broncos team has shown a surprising depth and following another successful game, the decisions that are ahead will be tough to make as the San Francisco 49ers come to town for the week.

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