Numbers matter. Yes, the game is played out on the field — not on paper — but a quick look at the statistical profile of a team can show tendencies, strengths and weaknesses that shine some light on what can be expected when the teams take the field. This series is an examination of how the Broncos can gain an advantage against their opponent from a statistical perspective.
Here are the numbers that matter in this Week 9 matchup against the Texans.
9.03 and 8.08
The Texans have allowed a sack on 9.03 percent of their passing plays, the seventh-worst mark in the league. Meanwhile, the Broncos have recorded a sack on 8.08 percent of opponents' such plays, which is fifth-best in the league. That number jumps to 11.4 percent for the Broncos over the past three weeks, second-best in the NFL. That should culminate in the Broncos' pass rush finding success.
The Texans have deployed several different offensive line combinations, and only one player — center Nick Martin — has started all eight games. While Deshaun Watson is a mobile quarterback who can also hang tough in the pocket, outside linebackers Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the rest of the defense may have some opportunities to bring him down Sunday.
"It's huge to get them in long downs,” Chubb said Wednesday. "They've been beat-up up front, [and] the quarterback's been hit a lot, so [we're] just trying to add on to those hits and stuff like that."
241 and 162
Even with a talented quarterback in Watson and one of the game's best wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans rely on the run more than almost any other team. With 241 rushing attempts, Houston has run the ball more than every team other than the Los Angeles Rams.
After starting the season 0-3 and having Watson take a lot of hits behind a banged-up offensive line, Houston started going with a more ground-based approach. During the Texans' five-game winning streak, they've run the ball 162 times, most in the NFL. The Texans aren't overly efficient running the ball — their 4.1 yards per carry this season rank just 22nd in the league — but they are willing to stick with it even when results are middling.
"When you watch this team in the last five weeks, it’s really based on playing great defense, taking the ball away and running the football with [RB Lamar] Miller," Head Coach Vance Joseph said Wednesday.
Miller has rushed for at least 100 yards each of the past two games after a slow start to the season.
"They've got a great back that I feel doesn't get enough credit in Miller," Chubb said. "He's a great, shifty back. ... We've got to rally around, stop the run and start pass rushing on long downs."
Though the Texans like to run the ball a lot, they'll meet a Broncos run defense that is rounding back into shape. The Broncos struggled to stop the run during the team's four-game losing streak, but it has played much better lately. Last week, the Broncos limited Kareem Hunt to just 50 yards on 16 carries. A week earlier, they held David Johnson to 39 yards on just 14 carries.
"It's just a point of emphasis," safety Justin Simmons said Wednesday. "The back-to-back weeks where we gave up 200 yards ... I think it was just lack of execution, lack of discipline. ... [During preparation for the Arizona game], mentally, we were locked in, everybody [was] gap-sound, staying on their blocks, staying gap-sound, assignment-sound. And obviously it's starting to pay off because we're more sound in the run game. You can see guys buying into the little details and execution of our game plans, so that's just something that we've got to stay consistent with and not get complacent about."
The Broncos need to be ready to defend the run for the entire game. If they can do that effectively, they should be able to turn up the pressure against Watson.
7.8 and 5.2
The Broncos are second in the NFL in points per first quarter, averaging 7.8 points per game in the opening frame. The issue has been sustaining that success: In the next three quarters, Denver has only averaged 5.2 points per frame. The Broncos are 12th in the league in first-half points and 24th in second-half points. A big issue has been turnovers: Case Keenum has thrown just three interceptions in first halves, but seven in second halves.
“He has to play better, but he’s had some good moments," Vance Joseph said in mid-October. "That’s not just Case. That’s running the football better, that’s blocking the pressures and those things, and guys making plays on the ball for Case. It’s not just Case being more consistent, it’s our entire offense.”
A strong start is always helpful, but continuing to extend or at least maintain leads is what the Broncos have been missing this season. If the Broncos can play well in the middle quarters and carry that effort through the fourth quarter, they could force Houston to abandon its run-heavy scheme that has worked so well in past weeks.
Also worth noting: The Texans are 0-3 when trailing at halftime and 5-0 when leading at halftime. A strong first-half effort will put Denver at a distinct advantage.
58.3 and 81.8
The Broncos' offense has struggled in the red zone this season, scoring touchdowns at just a 50 percent rate, but it has improved of late, scoring 55.6 percent of the time. Where the Broncos are best in the red zone, though, is at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. They find the end zone on 58.3 percent of their red-zone trips at home. Meanwhile, when the Texans are on the road, they allow opponents to score touchdowns on 81.8 percent of their trips to the red zone, second-worst in the NFL. If the Broncos score sixes instead of threes, they can gain the upper hand.
"We’re trying to train even better as we go through the season, to train our guys to maintain their concentration level and discipline deep into the drive rather than it waning once we get to that fatigue factor," Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said last week. "And they’ve done a super job of that work. We’re getting better. We’re here Week 7, Week 8 and we’re ready to hit our strides and really be in football shape so we can hit this stretch right into November and December and be at our best.”
As the calendar turns to November, proving Musgrave's words true could be a key to success against another high-powered offense.