ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos will face a major test on Sunday afternoon as the 2-0 Houston Texans visit Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Priority No. 1, according to Broncos defenders, will be to contain Houston's rushing attack, which cornerback Champ Bailey called "the best run game in football."
The Denver defense will be tasked with limiting not only Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster -- the second-leading rusher in the NFL in 2011 -- but also his very capable backup, Ben Tate.
"It's pretty darn good," Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said of Houston's ground game. "They're both very good backs. They do a good job blocking for them and when they get in space they can really do some damage. It's as big a challenge as we'll face in the running game. It's a very formidable opponent and we're going to have to be on top of our game."
In 2012, the Broncos run defense has been equally as strong as the Texans rushing offense, setting the table for a crucial battle in the trenches. Denver has allowed its opponent to gain just 2.6 yards per carry on 54 rushing attempts.
Its first two tests came against a perennial force on the ground in the Pittsburgh Steelers, and one of the league's top backs in Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons.
While the Broncos run 'D' ranks inside the top five in the NFL, the Texans' 299 yards on the ground in two games puts them at sixth. But with five rushing touchdowns, they stand alone atop the league.
That isn't the only category in which Denver's opponent ranks as the league's best. Houston also brings its top-ranked defense to Denver that has allowed just 124 yards per game through the air in 2012, which is good for tops in the NFL as well. Houston has surrendered just 17 points in its two games, with four forced fumbles, three interceptions and six sacks along the way.
"They play the game the way it should be played," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "They play extremely hard. It doesn't matter what situation is the game -- first quarter, fourth quarter, they're up, they're down -- it doesn't matter. All 11 guys are flying around. I've got a very close friend that was there last year and he said he's never seen a team practice so hard. They fly to the football. That's what they do every play."
With the threats that the Houston Texans have on both sides of the ball, the Broncos expect to have their hands full on Sunday afternoon -- a 2:25 p.m. kickoff.
Bailey, the 14th-year cornerback, knows that as well as anyone. He'll play a role in trying to keep quarterback Matt Schaub from connecting with wideout Andre Johnson throughout the game. That just adds to the numerous challenges that a steadily improving Houston team presents.
"I think their talent level far exceeds what they had in the past," Bailey said. "They're getting better every year. (The) quarterback is getting better. When Andre Johnson is healthy, he's obviously one of the best in the game. They're tough, across the board."
Denver will look to be sharp in the early goings.
"I think they rattle teams early," Bailey said. "We're aware of it, and we've just got to make sure we come out strong."