If there was one thing that fans of the Denver Broncos knew when defensive-minded head coach John Fox was hired back in 2011, it was that he would find a way to turn a perpetual porous defense into a perennial top-10 one. In his second year as head coach, Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have this squad on the right track. Will it be enough when the Houston Texans, with their diverse and powerful offense, come to town on Sunday?
Bend But Don't Break
That seems to be the mantra of the Broncos defense, and I think it's a great strategy considering the potent offense the Broncos have now with Peyton Manning as quarterback. Many folks outside Denver (and many here as well) thought that the Broncos won games only because of Tim Tebow in 2011. That was totally not the case. Many times the Broncos were still within a touchdown in the fourth quarter because of the tenacious defense that they played the entire game. This year, the Broncos have demonstrated that same kind of tenaciousness in difficult games against both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons.
After two games in 2012, the Broncos are ranked eighth in total yards allowed per game (279.5), 16th in points per game (23), and are tied for 6th in the NFL for total sacks (6). It remains to be seen just how better this defense can get considering the obstacles that have been placed in its way this season. The Broncos have already suffered a season-ending injury to starting defensive tackle Ty Warren, and are still waiting on starting linebacker D.J. Williams to return to the team (currently serving a six-game suspension for a drug violation). They also were put in a bind by the offense in the Atlanta Falcons game last Monday when Manning threw for three interceptions on his first three drives of the game. Despite those early turnovers, the Broncos defense held the Falcons to just 10 points in the first quarter and gave the offense a chance to get back into the game in the second half.
Huge Challenge This Sunday Against The Houston Texans
The Broncos have already played two very tough teams in the Steelers and the Falcons, but they might be up against an even better team on Sunday. The Texans come into this game 2-0 after shellacking both of their first two opponents. Granted, those opponents were the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars so it's difficult to tell just how good of an offense that the Texans really have based on who they played. They may not be as good as the Falcons, or they could be the best, more diverse, offense the Broncos play the rest of the year.
The Texans have one of the best wide receivers, Andre Johnson, in the NFL right now. At 6-3", 230 lbs, Johnson will pose an extreme test for whoever ends up covering him. However, it's the running game that will likely be the biggest challenge for the Broncos. The Texans have a powerful 1-2 combination in Arian Foster and Ben Tate that makes them the most feared running offense in the NFL. The front seven of the Broncos will have their hands full here, and this will be a great indicator of just how good the Broncos defense is at this point.
I'm not going to tout the Broncos as one of the NFL's best defenses just yet, but they are certainly light years better from where they were even a few years ago. If they can contain the Texans enough on Sunday to give Manning and the offense a chance to keep up, then Denver has a shot at winning this game. That's all I'm asking of the defense right now in this extraordinarily difficult first half of the 2012 schedule. Just be good enough to give the rest of the team a chance.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor who writes about the Denver Broncos for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A lifelong football fan, she began to follow the Broncos upon moving to Colorado in 2001.
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