HOUSTON — Heading into Sunday’s meeting with the surging Denver Broncos, Houston coach DeMeco Ryans was asked what he thinks has allowed them to bounce back after starting 1-5.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen from the Broncos and how they’ve turned things around is how their defense is attacking the football,” Ryans said.
“When you take the ball away as many times as they have … you set the offense up, you set the team up for success. And that’s where it starts with these guys.”
Denver (6-5) enters the game with a five-game winning streak, its longest since the 2015 season. The Broncos didn’t force a turnover in the first win in this stretch, but have piled up 15 combined in their past four games.
“They say they come in bunches and man, they’ve been coming in bunches the last couple of weeks,” safety Justin Simmons said.
“And for us we know that’s a huge key and a huge formula for us to find ways to win football games and we just need to keep that hot streak going, especially going up against a hot Houston team. Their offense is playing really well, their quarterback’s been doing a really good job. So, we’re going to need that to carry over this week in order to give us a chance to win.”
This week they’ll face rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who has done a great job of protecting the ball. He ranks second in the NFL with 3,266 yards passing and has thrown 19 touchdown passes with just five interceptions.
Three of his interceptions came in a win over Arizona two weeks ago and he didn’t turn the ball over in last week’s 24-21 loss to Jacksonville. He said he learned from his mistakes against the Cardinals.
“This last game definitely showed my maturity, because they really took away all our deep shots, and I was running the ball, checking it down, trying to do my best just extending the play if I had to,” he said. “So, just taking steps and strides every week has definitely been a goal of mine, and I feel like I’ve done a decent job of that.”
Kareem Jackson, who spent his first nine seasons as a cornerback in Houston before moving to safety when he joined the Broncos in 2019, will miss the game as he serves his second suspension for a series of illegal hits this season.
Jackson flew to New York to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday so he could discuss his latest banishment and what he calls the league’s uneven enforcement of the rules.
The league used to celebrate hard hits, but Jackson has been fined, flagged, ejected and suspended multiple times for not changing his playing style. His replacement in the starting lineup, PJ Locke, said he hopes the commissioner will realize in talking face-to-face with Jackson that he isn’t a dirty player or a bad guy.
GAME RECOGNIZES GAME
Denver quarterback Russell Wilson, a 12-year NFL veteran and nine-time Pro Bowler, raved about Stroud’s performance this season. The second overall pick enters Sunday’s game having thrown for at least 300 yards in an NFL rookie record four straight games.
“C.J.’s been impressive,” Wilson said. “He’s having one of the best rookie years ever. … And he’s got a great gene in him, and it’s called the ‘clutch gene.’ He’s got some ‘it’ in him. You saw that in college, too.”
The game was flexed into an earlier, kickoff at noon local time Sunday because it’s one of the weekend’s premier matchups, and Broncos tackle Garett Bolles is hoping that makes for a late-arriving crowd.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be rockin’ unless they’re all at church,” Bolles said. “I know Texans have their church at 12 o’clock. You gotta love the Lord, so hopefully they stay away and it’s a little quieter, but we’ll see. Last time we went down there that’s what happened. They didn’t show up until halftime.”
When the Broncos stumbled to 1-5 out of the gate, right tackle Mike McGlinchey talked about how his old team, the 49ers, won out last year after starting 3-4 by recommitting their attention to detail, something he said has also been the case in Denver over the past 1 1/2 months.
“I think the character of the guys in each locker room are very similar,” McGlinchey said. “We have a lot of guys that love playing football, that take a lot of pride in their work in the same way that we did in San Francisco.
"A lot of talent, which was always helpful, and the buy-in and the belief. It’s that hard-nosed mental mindset of, ‘I don’t care what the results have been. We know we can get this right and will get it right.’”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.