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Burning Questions | Broncos vs. Texans: Can the Broncos' pass rushers build off a strong start?

Take an inside look at the Broncos' week of practice from the team photographers' perspectives.

DENVER — The new-look Broncos are headed home.

For the first time under Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, quarterback Russell Wilson and Co. will take the field at Empower Field at Mile High for game action.

The Broncos (0-1) will host the Texans (0-0-1) in their home opener and look to even their record after a one-point loss on "Monday Night Football."

On a short week, Denver will look to iron out some correctable mistakes and continue the overarching success it found on both offense and defense.

"I'll tell you, they've been great," Hackett said Friday of the Broncos' week of practice. "It has been all football. I think they're excited to get back out on the field and be able to compete again. That's all you can ask for. Everybody looked to correct themselves and then move forward."

A year ago, nine of the 14 playoff teams started the season 1-1 — and if the Broncos can earn a win, they'll be back on track and tied for second place in the AFC West. If Denver falls to 0-2, though, the team will find itself in a hole that a team has not climbed out of since 2018.

"Every game we're urgent," Hackett said. "… In the end, we're out there to compete every day and win every single game. That's our focus. That's our mindset. But it's one game at a time. One game at a time. Anything can happen in this league."

These are the questions that will determine if the Broncos can start their home slate on the right foot:


Denver's offense looked unstoppable at times in Seattle.

The Broncos were on pace for more than 500 yards at halftime, and Wilson recorded the third most passing yards of any quarterback in Week 1.

Denver posted its first game without a three-and-out since early in the 2016 season, per Elias, and the Broncos also posted four drives of at least 70 yards.

The Broncos' lone issue came in the red zone, where the team didn't score a touchdown on any of its four trips inside the 20-yard line. The struggles were particularly pronounced inside the 10-yard line, as the Broncos lost two goal-line fumbles that wiped out chances at scores. Denver also had a false start penalty that crossed an Andrew Beck touchdown off the board.

Denver, though, believes there were signs that more points are on the way.

"Going back and looking at it, the opportunities were there," Hackett said Thursday. "We had people that were open. We had opportunities, and I think it's about being able to execute at even higher efficiency. For us, we're just going to keep on executing, keep on getting better at every single thing that we want to do, make sure we have the right plays and the right people in the right spots, and just keep on dialing it up."

Wilson pointed to several possible scores on Wednesday, and he noted the Broncos' need to make game-altering plays — or GAP plays, as he refers to them.

"We have to make them, and that's the difference in that game," Wilson said. "That would have been really exciting."

After focusing on goal-to-go offense in practice this week — and without the noise that a road game brings — the Broncos are confident they can improve in Week 2.

And if the offense can keep its middle-of-the-field efficiency while also scoring touchdowns, it could help put the Texans away.

On Thursday, a member of the Colorado Avalanche's staff brought the Stanley Cup to UCHealth Training Center, and Broncos players certainly enjoyed their time around the trophy.


The Broncos will be without their All-Pro safety on Sunday, as he misses the first of at least four games that he'll spend on injured reserve. The team captain and Pro Bowler is a talented player that is among the best center fielders in the game, and he also has been a key cog in the Broncos' run support.

Simmons, though, is more than just a key player for the Broncos. He's also a key communicator who helps ensure the Broncos' defense is all on the same page. In Week 1, Denver allowed a first-quarter touchdown after a miscommunication left Will Dissly open down the left side of the field. Against second-year quarterback Davis Mills and wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Broncos will need to make sure there are no communication breakdowns that could lead to big plays.

Inside linebacker Josey Jewell is listed as questionable, which could further compound the issue. In Simmons' absence, the Broncos are expected to rely upon Caden Sterns to fill the void.

"If Josey doesn't play, Alex [Singleton] will still have the 'Mike [role],' and that doesn't really change a thing," Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "[With] Alex, we feel very confident in his ability to communicate and all that stuff. Justin is an elite guy back there in terms of not only his ability, but his above-the-neck knowledge, as well. That's going to be missed, but Caden is very sharp and doesn't have the same experience, but is equally smart and I think he'll do a good job."

Safety Kareem Jackson, who will play alongside Sterns, believes in the second-year player.

"It's hard to replace a guy like Justin Simmons," Jackson said. "What he does for our defense and what he does in that locker room for this team [and] with this leadership — it's tough. I'm sure everybody in the community knows what type of guy he is on and off of the field, but it's — for us, we pride ourselves on having the next guy available and ready. Caden Sterns has played a ton of ball in this league in such a short time, so I think he's very ready for the situation and the opportunity. I think he'll come in, and I think he'll play great."

The Broncos' secondary has elite talent. If the unit can shore up its communication, it should find success vs. Houston.


Denver's defense clamped down in the second half of their Week 1 game in Seattle, as the unit allowed just 34 yards to the Seahawks after halftime. The Broncos forced a fumble and a pair of punts on three Seattle drives and held the home team scoreless.

The Broncos' success came in no small part from the play of Denver's edge rushers. Bradley Chubb recorded his first sacks since a Week 12 game in 2020, as he posted a strip-sack and a series-ending quarterback takedown.

"That was awesome to see," Hackett said Wednesday. "… I thought he had some great moves there. I thought did a really good job chasing after the ball and just playing with his hair on fire. I think that's what we want to see from him a leader of this team."

Randy Gregory recorded just one tackle, but he ripped the ball away from DK Metcalf to force a critical fumble and push Seattle off the field.

"He's going to continue to get better with his conditioning, but there were a lot of flashes there," Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "I thought he did a really good job for the limited practice experience that he had at training camp."

Against a second-year quarterback, the Broncos could have an opportunity to make more game-changing plays — and provide some help to a Simmons-free secondary. Mills was sacked three times in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a strip-sack that led to an Indianapolis touchdown drive.

If the Broncos can build a lead against the Texans, they should be able to pin their ears back and get after Mills. And in that situation, a potent pass rush could help put the game away for the Broncos.

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