From The Armchair: Denver Broncos: Week 16
The Broncos headed into Houston to try and rebound from a disappointing home loss 10 days ago to the Chargers and get back on track as they head to the playoffs. As bad as that loss was, a win versus the Texans and in week 17 at Oakland would still give the Broncos the #1 AFC seed. This game started out well for the Broncos as they stopped the Texans on 3 downs on defense and took their opening drive 78 yards before stalling out and having to settle for a Matt Prater field goal. Their second drive on offense ended on downs at the Texans 20. After Houston tied it at 3-3, Manning drove the Broncos down the field and connected on a 36 yard deep slant with Demaryius Thomas for the first TD of the game and a 10-3 lead. The defense came up with the stop when they had to later and held the Texans to another field goal. Late in the first half, the Broncos cruised down to a first and goal situation at the Texans 4 yard line. But after consecutive Orlando Franklin penalties, they had to end up settling for another Prater field goal with just under a minute remaining in the half. Denver then got some help from Houston as they went 3 and out and used only 17 seconds. After a three mid range completions, Matt Prater hit from 44 yards to make it a 16-6 game at the half.
The 3rd quarter was awful for the Broncos. They ran a total of 14 plays on 4 drives all ending in punts, while the Texans scored a touchdown on their first drive of the half. The turning point came near the end of the 3rd quarter with the Broncos clinging to a 3 point lead. Mike Adams intercepted a Matt Schaub pass along the sidelines at the Houston 28 yard line. The Broncos cashed that in with an Eric Decker touchdown pass and Manning connected with Decker again and Julius Thomas on their next two possessions to put this game out of reach and a 37-13 Broncos win.
The record setting season of Peyton Manning continues. His 4th quarter touchdown pass, his 4th of the game, gave him 51 for the year, eclipsing the previous record of 50 set by Tom Brady in 2007. Manning finished the game 32/51 for 400 yards, the 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s the 4th time he’s thrown for 400 yards this year and for the season he’s at 5,211 yards, closing in on Drew Brees’ record for a season of 5,476.
Without Wes Welker in the lineup, the other top targets stepped up for the Broncos. Eric Decker led all receivers with 10 catches, 131 yards and 2 touchdowns. Demaryius Thomas caught 8 for 123 yards including his 36 yard touchdown. And not to be left out, Julius Thomas chipped in with 6 catches for 78 yards and hauled in Manning’s record setter.
The Broncos didn’t run the ball a lot, only 18 times, but they did it effectively. Knowshon led the team with 76 yards on just 11 carries, and Montee Ball had 32 on only 4 carries. The line opened up huge holes all day as the Broncos averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Unlike most games this year, the Texans were able to not only put some pressure on Manning but put him on the ground when he threw the ball. The Broncos were exposed up the middle on several plays and allowed Manning to be sacked once and knocked down 6 times. Penalties at key times also killed a couple drives. Though they managed to get field goals in the first half, the score could have easily been 24-6 at halftime. It should be noted that as good as the numbers look, the Broncos were just 2-11 on 3rd down.
The much maligned defense had a good day, despite being shorthanded. Thanks due in part to the Texans missing Arian Foster and Ben Tate to injury, Denver held Houston to 87 rushing yards on 26 carries for a 3.3 average. Danny Trevathan and company did a good job of minimizing plays at the edges but did give up a couple big runs straight up the gut.
The biggest scare of the game came early in the 1st quarter when Von Miller was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. The extent of the injury is not yet known, so all we can do is hope for the best. Even without Miller, the Broncos were able to get good pressure on Schaub all day. They managed to sack him three times, but on numerous occasions they were able to get into the backfield and disrupt timing and cause Schaub to throw balls away or sooner than he wanted to. Rookie Sylvester Williams had his 2nd sack in as many weeks and continues to be an up and coming force in the middle of this defense.
Chris Harris had a good day in the defensive backfield, knocking away a couple passes and doing a good job against Andre Johnson. Mike Adams had the momentum changer of the game with his 3rdquarter interception, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie continued his strong play this year and capped off the game late with an interception on a deep pass.
Matt Prater was 3/3 on field goals, connecting from 32, 25, and 44 yards. Trindon Holliday had a big return nullified by a holding penalty and was otherwise kept in check all day. Holliday also muffed a punt in the 4th quarter and didn’t see return duties after that.
All in all, it was a ho-hum 24 point win for the Broncos against the team with the worst record in the league. There is still a lot of work to be done if they want to go far in the playoffs and a lot of it starts with minimizing the amount of penalties they take, especially ones that kill offensive drives and extend drives for the opposition. It will be interesting to see what happens next week as they will need to win to ensure the #1 seed, but no matter what they do have a bye in week 1. Next week, the Broncos finish the regular season in Oakland.
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