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Game Preview: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans | Week 13

HOUSTON — It's time to hit the road.

The Broncos begin a three-game road stretch — their first since 2017 — with a trip to NRG Stadium to battle the Houston Texans (6-5), and the stakes are high. The Broncos and Texans are currently the first two teams out of the AFC playoff picture, and the winner will secure a key head-to-head advantage in any possible tiebreaks.

Still, Denver is focused more on this weekend's matchup than on any impact it could have in a few weeks.

"It's one game," Head Coach Sean Payton said Friday. "We have six of them here. We add up the units at the end. Both teams are 6-5, and both teams are in the AFC, but you have to prepare to play a game. You have to prepare to play your best game. The further we play and the longer we get into the end of the season, each week will present scenarios. It's a good team. It's a team that's played well this year, and they're playing with confidence."

Denver, the winner of five straight contests, has its sights set on a sixth consecutive win — and the team has fared well against challenging opponents in recent weeks.

Since Week 8, the Broncos have posted a 4-0 mark against opponents that entered the game with a winning record, and the Eagles are the only team with even three wins over winning opponents during that span.

The Broncos, though, know the challenge that awaits them in Houston.

"Houston's no joke,"tackle Mike McGlincheysaid Wednesday. "They're a great football team, and they're having a lot of success, just like we are. It should be a fun battle. The focus is only singularly on Houston and moving forward as best as we can and trying to improve each week."

As Denver looks to push its winning streak to six games, here's a look at a question for the Broncos to answer, a matchup to watch and a stat to know.


Can the Broncos limit rookie phenom C.J. Stroud?

C.J. Stroud's rookie season hasn't just been impressive, it's been historic.

The second-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is averaging the most passing yards (296.9) by any rookie quarterback in history, and he's tied with Justin Herbert and Andrew Luck for the most games with 300 passing yards and two touchdowns by a rookie. Over his last four games, Stroud has thrown for 1,466 yards, which is the most by any rookie since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Stroud has thrown the ball at least 36 times in each of his last four starts.

Stroud's passing yards per game, touchdown-to-interception ratio (19-to-5) and passer rating (100.8) all rank in the top six among qualified quarterbacks. He's also shown a knack for late-game theatrics, as he recorded game-winning drives against the Buccaneers and Bengals in back-to-back weeks.

"It's unusual what he's accomplishing as a rookie," Payton said. "That's not normal. In other words, it's hard to project that. If you looked at the history of our league, there haven't been a lot of first-year starters or rookies that have had that type of early success. Again, a lot of credit goes to C.J. and the coaches. It's not something you see all the time."

A week after stymying Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker, Denver's defense will look to disrupt Stroud's impressive rookie campaign.

The Broncos' defense has recorded at least three takeaways in four consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The unit has also improved its points per game allowed by 19.7 points since Week 5, which would be the largest improvement after five games by any team in NFL history. Since a Week 6 game against Kansas City, the Broncos are allowing just 16.5 points and have held opposing passers to a 6-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.


Russell Wilson vs. DeMeco Ryans

The Texans' defense has adopted the same tenacious playing style that its head coach, DeMeco Ryans, embodied as a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker.

"They play hard," Payton said Friday. "They play fast to the ball. You can see it on tape. You can just feel the energy they play with, and that's a result of their coaching and the talent that they have."

The Texans are particularly good against opposing ground games, as they have allowed just 95.1 rushing yards per game, which ranked eighth in the NFL entering Week 13.

Houston, though, has allowed the sixth-most passing yards per game (252.5), which could be an opportunity for the Broncos.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has faced a Ryans-led defense three times in his career — and Wilson currently holds a 3-0 mark. In addition to an 11-10 slugfest last season that ended with Wilson and the Broncos posting a game-winning touchdown drive, Wilson faced Ryans and the 49ers twice in 2021 with the Seahawks. In those two matchups, Wilson completed 76.7 percent of his passes while posting five total touchdowns, one giveaway and a 107.6 passer rating.

"He coaches his guys with great discipline, great tenacity on the defensive side of the ball," Wilson said Wednesday. "They fly around, they do a lot of great things. He was doing that at the 49ers, he's done it here with the Texans. It's been impressive just to watch what they've done, the turnaround they've had and everything else. He's an enthusiastic coach, he's a detailed coach — and they've got great players."

The challenge will undoubtedly be tough, but if Wilson can give the Broncos an edge through the air, Denver would take a step closer to its sixth consecutive win.



The Broncos' defense could face yet another talented wide receiver, as Texans rookie Tank Dell has already proven himself among the league's best. Dell is listed as questionable, but he practiced on Thursday and Friday, and Ryans told Houston media he expected Dell to be OK. When healthy, Dell has been a force. His 709 receiving yards rank second among rookies, and his seven receiving touchdowns are tied for first among members of the rookie class. He's averaging 15.1 yards per reception — again, most among qualifying rookies — and a franchise rookie best 70.9 yards per game.

Together, Dell and Stroud are on the verge of setting a record for the most prolific rookie duo. Stroud and Dell's 709 yards are the most by a rookie quarterback-and-receiver duo through 11 games since 1991, when play-by-data first became available.

Denver, though, may be up for the challenge. The Broncos have not allowed an opposing receiver to record 75 yards since Week 4, and they have also not allowed an opposing receiver to have 50 yards and a touchdown in the same span. Prior to Week 5, the Broncos had five opposing receivers post the latter stat line in four weeks.

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