BRONCOS

Broncos dug too deep of a hole with sloppy play against Texans

Dec 4, 2023, 6:27 AM | Updated: 12:21 pm

The Denver Broncos lost for the first time in over a month. On Sunday, they were outplayed by the Houston Texans and fell by a score of 22-17.

The Broncos are not built to play come-from-behind football. They want to run the ball and play great defense. When this team must air it out, they struggle to stay in the game. A late surge made this game closer than it seemed, but in the end, the Broncos fell short.

After the game, Payton admitted the team was leaning more on their passing game because they failed to keep the chains moving (thus, giving them more opportunities to run the ball).

“A little bit, maybe to some degree. Look, I get back to this. We had a game not too long ago where we didn’t have good rushing numbers but then we didn’t have good third down numbers, so you don’t have good numbers, you don’t have a lot of plays, and then people ask what happened to the running game. It’s hard to run if you’re not staying on the field. It kind of goes hand in hand.” Payton said.

Here are three observations from the Broncos loss to the Texans in Week 13.

***

The Hole was Too Deep

The Broncos dug themselves a hole they couldn’t climb out of. As aforementioned, the Broncos are not built to make up ground quickly when they fall behind. The Texans were up by 13 points at one point, and heading into halftime, the Broncos were down by 10 points.

That’s not a great deficit, but it’s enough to take the Broncos a bit out of their game plan. Add in the fact that they did not convert a single third down (0-11), and you can see how Denver just wasn’t on the field enough to make the comeback they needed.

When the Broncos did move the ball in the fourth quarter, things began to click for them and the passing game. They came out firing passes, but the early passes to Courtland Sutton fell to the ground incomplete. Had those two passes hit – or at least one of them – then perhaps the Broncos would have the confidence to spark the rest of the offense in the first quarter and not in the final quarter of play.
Payton knows every game unfolds differently.

“Yeah, look, these games unfold sometimes differently. You’d like them – we’ve been a real good opening drive team. Man, we went through those first 15 and were struggling just finding something to get us across the 50. But you know we were forcing field goals, and that gave us a chance. It gave us a chance to come back in the game, and you kind of felt that momentum swing. I’ll give it to our guys, we continued to battle. We just put ourselves in a little bit too big of a hole today. Sometimes you’re going to have to play well from behind. This is a close league. It’s not like you get in games each week – very few actually – where you’re comfortable in the fourth quarter. We weren’t able to make enough plays today.” Payton said.

***

Nothing but Sloppy

After a loss like this, many can shoulder the blame. A lot of people want to blame Russell Wilson for his three interceptions (more on that in a bit). Some want to blame the coaching staff and Payton for the play-calling and usage of timeouts. Still others want to blame the defense for not stopping Texans WR Nico Collins (who had nearly 200 yards receiving against the Broncos).

Forget all that. There were a lot of problems that emerged for the Broncos. The Texans were bottling up the rushing attack, so Denver could not use time of possession as a weapon against an offense that strives on making big plays the norm. Without the rushing attack, Texans pass-rushers were able to pin their ears back and attack Wilson to pressure him before he was ready to throw.

The Texans could run the ball when they wanted to, and Broncos players (linebacker Alex Singleton specifically) was exposed in coverage. Houston was without their best tight end Dalton Schultz, but backup Brevin Jordan looked like he was a Pro Bowl player. Rookie sensation Tank Dell was knocked out of this game early, but it didn’t matter because the secondary could not handle Collins. Just Collins, Jordan, and a little bit of the backs out of the backfield were enough to move the ball – sometimes in big chunks – against the Broncos.
Payton didn’t mince words after the game.

“Sloppy for most of the game. Obviously third down we struggled. I don’t think we converted a third down offensively. We converted a fourth maybe. But all the things we discussed coming in – we’ve been a team that has played well with the takeaways and the giveaways, but that script flipped today. We had three of them, didn’t get any. Gave up explosives. We’ll look at this tape tomorrow. It starts with us coaches, starts with me. We’ve got to do a better job. Credit [DeMeco] Ryans, Houston, those guys earned a hard-fought win. But we didn’t play our best football, and we’re going to have to down the stretch here.” Payton said.

***

Every Interception Has a Story

Wilson had a bad day against the Texans, and many were quick to point out his three interceptions as the reasons why Denver didn’t win. It didn’t help, but Wilson was trying to make plays as his team came from behind.
His first interception was on a tipped pass. Those are almost forgivable because you can’t control how a ball will move after a defender gets his hand on it. Again, no interception is good but tipped balls are something you just must live with if it happens.

The second interception happened because Wilson’s favorite target is Courtland Sutton, and any smart defender should guess that he’s going there when a big play is needed. Sutton was going down the field for a big play, and the Texans were able to sniff it out. I don’t think Wilson held his eyes enough to keep the defender from working his way to Sutton. That’s on Wilson, but it’s also on the tendencies this team has shown that opponents are using as “tells” on game day.

The final interception ended the game. With the game on the line, Wilson was again under duress. Tight end Lucas Krull didn’t seem to know what the play was when the ball snapped, yet he found himself (and is big body) in one-on-one coverage in the end zone. Wilson threw the ball up, but Krull didn’t box out the smaller defender. He did come back to the ball a bit, but with his size and leaping ability he needed to show better “my ball” mentality.
After the game, Wilson told the story about his interceptions.

“Yeah, first one was tipped. They made a good play. The second one – took a shot down the field to ‘Court’ (Courtland Sutton). Thought we had him, honestly, and he made a heck of a play. I don’t know how he made that play, to be honest with you. Then the last one was trying to win the game for us, trying to get the ball up high in the end zone, and they made that one. You know, I think the first one is just part of the game of football. The last two, they made good plays.” Wilson said.

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Broncos dug too deep of a hole with sloppy play against Texans