Broncos-Texans grades: Running game passing the test

Sep 20, 2022, 12:40 PM | Updated: Sep 28, 2022, 9:11 am
Javonte Williams...
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Red-zone finishing and game management remain concerns. But by and large, there was a lot to like from the Broncos in Week 2.



It wasn’t a vintage game for Wilson, who struggled to overcome a 3-of-11 start that included an Albert Okwuegbunam drop and a pass across the middle that Christian Kirksey intercepted when Courtland Sutton couldn’t corral it. It was a chance worth taking, even though the window was narrow. But Wilson delivered when the Broncos needed him most. Still, it is still curious that Wilson doesn’t take the chances afforded him to pick up a quick handful of yardage on the ground.

Now, Wilson’s run rate declined in recent years, and his passing accuracy increased. And the Broncos didn’t acquire him for his feet; they brought him in for his leadership, arm and acumen. But an occasional run — ideally, 3 per game — is enough to keep the defense honest. It would also take the spice off of an opposing pass rush the likes of which Denver will face next Sunday when Nick Bosa and Co. arrive.


Whether it was Javonte Williams nearly leaping over a defender or Melvin Gordon knifing his way up the middle, the Broncos have found a core competency in this 1-2 punch. Williams needs to punch up his pass protection a bit. Interesting statistic: by my calculations, Gordon averaged as many yards after first contact as Williams — 4.3 apiece. Both also forced 6 missed tackles. While they have slightly different body types, in the end sum, they are nearly interchangeable.


Courtland Sutton had a complete day — a 122-yard performance, some contested catches and terrific work blocking on the outside. His adjustment to Wilson’s passes in flight is terrific and they look to be very much on the same page. Tyrie Cleveland had an early drop erased by a holding penalty. He grew more comfortable as the game progressed, punctuating his day with a 16-yard catch-and-run that included 11 yards after the catch and a broken tackle. Kendall Hinton was solid in spot work and, like Sutton, nearly had a touchdown. Still, you’d like to see the drop not happen; one drop on 11 catchable passes for the receivers is a rate they’d like to improve.


Some good — Eric Saubert’s touchdown reception on a four-verts play that saw him make the grab down the seam despite tight coverage — and some bad — specifically the afore-mentioned Okwuegbunam drop. Andrew Beck’s protection of the football on the busted option call prevented a lousy play from becoming an outright disaster. Okwuegbnuam was solid as a run blocker and has shown some improvement there.


Outstanding work up front led to holes for Williams and Gordon as this unit flourished on running plays for a second consecutive week. Its cohesion in that aspect has been a bright spot through two games, and the fact that Williams and Gordon are nearly equal in effectiveness — Williams had 5.0 yards per carry Sunday, Gordon 4.7 — illuminates how their work is creating a reliable ground attack that is becoming the team’s bread-and-butter.

Some things need to be cleaned up in in pass protection. Cameron Fleming’s second start of the season wasn’t as strong as the first, and he was beaten for a sack. Midway through the fourth quarter, Dalton Risner had no chance when asked to flash from left guard over to stop Jonathan Greenard, who diagnosed the intent perfect from off of the opposite flank. “The other guys get paid too,” as John Fox often said.



The line started strong and flashed from there. D.J. Jones set the tone on the first series, with a pressure of Davis Mills and a superb read of the third-down sweep that forced a three-and-out. Mike Purcell made the most of his 24 snaps and forced the issue for Houston’s ground game. Dre’Mont Jones carried the day with two sacks, and on the second one, Evero had nice play design, executed perfectly by Jones as he hesitated for a beat, then sprinted up the vacant A-gap.


Alex Singleton was something of an unsung hero with an early pass deflection in the red zone and the rush that set up Dre’Mont Jones’ second sack, drawing the attention of the center and right guard. That allowed the defensive lineman to stunt and have a clear alley to Mills. It wasn’t all perfect; Singleton was left in a disadvantageous matchup on Brandin Cooks in the second quarter; the result was a 25-yard catch-and-run that set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s second field goal of the day. Most inside linebackers are going to struggle in that duel. But when asked to do what they do well, Singleton and Jonas Griffith held their own.


Quickness and length are Randy Gregory’s two best attributes, and he used them well on his first sack of the season, capitalizing off of a slow twitch by Tytus Howard to whip around the edge for the strip-sack fumble of Mills in the fourth quarter. He finished with that sack, two other quarterback hits and some good work against the run. Chubb hit Mills twice in 21 pass rushes, but he also missed a tackle.


Despite losing Pat Surtain II to a shoulder injury in the second quarter, the corners acquitted themselves well, particularly Damarri Mathis in his first professional work. Mills tested Mathis, throwing in his direction more than any other Denver defender, and he played clean — which is significant given that he had a proclivity for penalties during training-camp work. Ronald Darby was reliable; Mills found success once on just five throws in his direction. K’Waun Williams also does a nice job limiting the damage; he has been exactly as billed.


Without Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson and Caden Sterns didn’t have any difference-making moments, and they were rarely tested as by and large, Mills stayed on schedule. Sterns had a pair of missed potential tackles, but he did a good job limiting the damage on a 25-yard pass to Cooks in the fourth quarter; he didn’t arrive before the ball, but he ensured there would be no yardage after the reception. P.J. Locke diagnosed a first-quarter third-and-5 wheel route by Rex Burkhead well, moving over to ensure that there was little window for a long completion.



Give extra credit to McManus for making a 54-yarder that didn’t count because of a delay-of-game penalty. The snapping and holding process had no issues. It was a clean day, and given how McManus struck the afore-mentioned kick — with at least 15 yards to spare — it was a surprise he didn’t get the call for a 59-yard retry.

PUNTING: C-minus

Rugby-style punts were in order for Waitman, as three of his five punts came in Texans territory. Just one ended inside the 20-yard line, as a bad bounce doomed him on one punt, while another — a 49-yarder — bounced into the end zone from the Houston 1-yard line. But perhaps the most disappointing punt of his day came 5:50 into the second quarter. With the line of scrimmage at the Denver 32, the Broncos needed a field-flipper. They didn’t get it; it went 35 yards. Although it had 4.24 seconds of hang time — enough on such a short punt to prevent a return — it did not match what he showed in training camp from that area of the field. Waitman has the driver in his bag, but it hasn’t come out in games yet. Waitman’s average hang time by my stopwatch was 4.47 seconds, ranging from 4.24 to 4.69 seconds.


No one doubts Washington’s explosiveness. But he fielded one punt at the 3-yard line — which resulted in the Broncos taking possession at the 8 after a penalty on the subsequent return. Penalty risk — along with that of a fumble — is why it’s best to let such punts skip into the end zone unless you face an end-game situation and need an explosive play.


Four of five McManus kickoffs were touchbacks, and on the fifth, Houston started at its 24 after solid work in coverage to the left side. Aaron Patrick hustled downfield, prevented the Texans from developing a wall for Desmond King and prevented a potential game-tying runback in the final minute. Patrick showed why the Broncos kept him on the 53-man roster and why he had a jersey ahead of second-round pick Nik Bonitto; he was one of four Broncos special-teamers to play a team-leading 21 special-teams snaps and is a core player in that phase.


Last week was a mulligan. This week, not so much. It’s not to say that it was all bad. As frustrating as the goal-to-go play-calling was, it was often brilliant leading up to it. The Broncos’ longest play of the day, a 35-yard pass to Sutton, saw wonderful play design that tricked Houston’s safeties, leading to the open space down the left sideline. Evero mixed things up. You don’t have to squint to see how proficient this team can be.

But the Broncos checked too many items on the bingo card of mismanagement:

Too many men penalty … check
Burning a timeout because not enough players were on the field … check
Multiple delay-of-game penalties … check
Slow relay of the playcall to the quarterback … check
Questionable use of timeouts … check

I expect this will be the last such grade given for a while. Because if not, the Broncos have problems — specifically, in the parlance of Bart Simpson’s best friend Milhouse van Houten, “SCARY problems.”


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