Broncos' 3 Keys to Victory Over Texans in Week 2 – Sports Illustrated

Coming out of the season-opener, Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett is likely rethinking a few things. The wisdom of resting 99% of his starters during the preseason was called into question with the Broncos' sloppy, disjointed, and unfocused debut in Seattle last week. 
Adding injury to insult (you read that right), Hackett's prime objective for resting his starters — avoiding the injury bug — was nullified by a seemingly unprepared team getting brutalized by an opponent that was no stranger to the live-bullet intensity of the NFL regular season. Despite his preseason caution, Hackett saw multiple starters go down in Week 1 — including team captain Justin Simmons and right guard Quinn Meinerz. 
So the preseason sabbatical for the Broncos' starters availed Hackett not when it came to staving off the injury bug. All it did was put his team behind the eight-ball in terms of preparation. The Broncos weren't ready for big-boy NFL intensity and strategy. 
Live and learn, I guess. 
With that stinkfest in Seattle out of the way, the Broncos badly need to get on the winning track. Week 2 offers a great opportunity for just that in the form of the 0-0-1 Houston Texans. Coming off a tie in their opener, the Texans know they're not destined for deep January football and are happy playing the spoiler to teams who actually might be as Lovie Smith figures things out. 
The Broncos are one of those teams with the physical constitution of a playoff contender. But does Denver also have the commensurate spiritual mettle? That's what we're fixin' to find out. 
This team has to get out of its own way if it wants to be in the postseason conversation come late December. What do the Broncos have to do to break the ice on 2022 and get a win? 
There are three keys to a Broncos victory, as I see it. Let's dive in. 
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The Broncos' worst enemy last week on Monday Night Football wasn't the Seattle Seahawks or the '12s.' It was themselves. I'm suddenly reminded of a Lit song…
…Nevermind. 
Bottom line, if the Broncos don't fumble on two separate drives on the Seahawks' goal-line, and if the players aren't flagged for a whopping 12 penalties, and if Eric Saubert doesn't drop a touchdown pass, and if Hackett could be counted on to make no-brainer executive decisions, manage the clock correctly (especially in the clutch), and trust franchise quarterback Russell Wilson when the game is on the line, Week 1 probably would have taken on an entirely different complexion. The Broncos would have won — handily. 
But you know the ol' saying: if 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, we all would have a Merry Christmas. 
Those gaffes happened. There's no turning back the clock. All the Broncos can do now is hopefully learn from that comedy of errors. 
At home, with the Orange and Blue faithful at their back, the Broncos simply have to play with poise. Do that, and avoid the faux pas of Week 1, and the Texans are sent home with a bad beatin'. 
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Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Listen, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero wised up at the half and made the necessary adjustments, but it was painful watching the Seahawks complete pass after pass after pass after pass to receivers underneath. The Broncos played their cornerbacks in off-coverage, lining up 7-to-8 yards off the line of scrimmage, and Geno Smith was smart enough to take what Evero was willing to give. 
As well as Patrick Surtain II played, he still relinquished all seven targets to D.K. Metcalf, even though it only availed the Seahawks' receiver 36 yards. Smith might never be mistaken for a bonafide franchise signal-caller, but he's savvy enough to understand that you can't go broke taking a profit. 
There are tactical advantages to calling off-coverage, depending on the down, distance, and game situation. But telegraphing a stubbornness to do so possession after possession makes it far too easy on the opponent. 
Here's to hoping Coach Evero calls a game against the Texans more akin to the second half in Seattle, mixing up coverages and not offering such easy completions to Houston QB Davis Mills. 
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
I said it in last week's Keys to Victory and I'll say it again: Hackett has to #LetRussCook. Let's not pretend like it was all bad from Hackett. His play-calling was refreshingly savvy — between the 20s. 
Once Denver crossed into the red zone? Yeah, Hackett's play-calling suddenly nose-dived. But so did the execution by the players, including Wilson. 
However, Hackett did his offense no favors by calling a running play out of the shotgun on 4th-&-Goal on the Seattle 1-yard line. Is it any surprise the Seahawks stopped it? Let alone, forced two takeaways? 
It shouldn't be. In future, Hackett would be wise to dispense with the 'Mommy always told me I was the smartest and most handsome little boy in the world' self-talk, and get back to basics. Trust Wilson to make the plays when the chips are down. He's been to the top of the mountain before. Hackett hasn't. 
And for heaven's sake, when the game is on the frickin' line, don't take the ball out of your nine-time Pro Bowler's frickin' hands, and manage the frickin' clock like you're more than a glorified water boy in the Bush League. Fathom a head coach who willingly sits down the QB for whom the Broncos literally sold the farm to acquire, flushing upwards of 30 ticks on the clock down the toilet, to attempt a… 64-yard field goal. 
I know, I know. It was 4th-&-5, right? It sure was, but Hackett knew the down-and-distance situation when there were still 55 seconds left in the game and sitting on three timeouts, to boot. The coaching ignorance displayed was inexcusable. 
The forest for the trees… 
After how badly Hackett has been justifiably lampooned in the ensuing days, I've got to believe he now understands how his bread is going to get buttered in 2022. If it's going to get basted at all, even if it's with margarin (ick), it'll be from Wilson's hand. This team will go as far as Wilson — not Hackett — is able to take it. 
Don't ever lose sight of that again, Coach. 
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Chad Jensen is the Founder of Mile High Huddle and creator of the wildly popular Mile High Huddle Podcast. Chad has been on the Denver Broncos beat since 2012 and co-hosts the Mile High Huddle Show on 98.1 FM in Denver. 

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