There’s no resting on your laurels in the NFL. If you think the Denver Broncos give two turkeys about the biggest win in Texans’ franchise history, think again. On Sunday afternoon, the Broncos are coming to NRG Stadium with the sole purpose of wrecking the Texans chances to further secure a spot in the NFL Playoffs.
The Denver Broncos are having a 2013-2017 Texans-esque season, featuring their third QB in five games. Joe Flacco’s season came to an end with a gruesome herniated disk injury against the Colts. Though he was one of the lowest rated QBs in the league, the offense has been sputtering ever since Flacco left. Brandon Allen took over at QB for the Broncos but didn't provide any lift. Now it’s up to rookie QB Drew Lock to lock up the future of the Broncos franchise. Denver’s newly acquired QB spent the first three months of the season on IR with a hurt thumb on his throwing hand suffered during the preseason.
Now with the Broncos’ season mostly wrapped up, Denver legend and now GM John Elway has tossed out the rookie QB as a last-ditch effort to save his own job. Fortunately for Elway, Lock led the Broncos to a last-minute victory against the Chargers last Sunday. As you can see on the Next Gen Stats chart below, Lock had a solid performance in his first NFL outing.
With next to no NFL film on Lock, it’s going to be a challenge for the Texans and Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel to come with a set game plan.
After scouting the Lock-led Broncos offense against the Chargers, OC Rich Scangarello stuck to very compact formations. This gives Lock simple reads on mainly out routes, allows him to focus on one or two routes without having to scan the whole field. This avoids complex zone coverage in the middle of the field, where balls have a higher potential to be intercepted. As you can see on the chart above, the one time Lock threw deep over the middle of the field, he was intercepted. Another thing this scheme does is provide max protection for Lock, giving him enough time to make the right decisions. Especially with the Broncos’ porous offensive line (they’ve allowed 36 sacks this season, same as the Texans), the more protection they give him, the better.
Lock did a good job of escaping the pocket last week, and he’s much more mobile than either Joe Flacco (duh) and Brandon Allen. It’s tough for any player to be comfortable in the pocket after not seeing live action for the past several months, so it’s normal to see a rookie QB get back into the swing of things by running around a bit. The Texans will just need to be aware and look out for when he does get antsy.
After an 0-4 start, the Broncos are 4-4 in their last eight games and 1-0 with Lock under center. There’s nothing like the energy of a rookie QB to spark a struggling franchise. It gives everyone something to play for, which is not exactly the sentiment the Texans are looking for in a 4-8 team.
A quarter of Lock’s passes last week were behind the line of scrimmage. 64% traveled less than two yards. Of the passes he did throw down the field, Lock threw two touchdowns and one interception. He was fairly accurate against the Chargers. Though the Chargers didn’t do much to pressure him or make him uncomfortable, when he needed to put the ball in a tight window, he was able to do so most of the time. One of the ways the Broncos increased Lock’s accuracy was through play action. Expect a heavy dose of that on Sunday, with Lock rolling out to the right when Denver is on the left hash mark.
Though the Broncos did win the game, Lock didn’t do anything special in particular against the Chargers. On the final drive, he threw a deep ball to Courtland Sutton that was ruled pass interference. I was not fully in agreement with the call, but that’s the NFL today. The one deep ball over the middle for 30 yards was at the end of the half. Lock’s deep touchdown on the right hand side was successful in large part because of Sutton’s heroics.
Lock was also Denver’s second-leading rusher for the game with three carries for 15 yards. He showed a good balance of escaping the pocket when necessary and staying put to absorb the hit.
A loss against the Broncos and a Titans win against the crumbling Raiders on Sunday would put Houston dead-even with the Titans in the AFC South. And since the Texans have yet to play the Titans, the Texans really have no room for error heading down the home stretch.
Last fact: The Texans’ magic number on Sunday is 21. The Broncos are 0-6 if their opponent scores 21 points or more.
Are you worried about the game on Sunday?