ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If there is a word that could be used to describe the mood around the Denver Broncos this week, it just might be salty.
Yes, after losing two games in a row, things have gotten a little testy for a team used to success. That may not be cause for the kind of hand-wringing that’s gone on in the Rocky Mountain region in recent days in some other football outposts, but the Broncos haven’t had a three-game losing streak since 2011. That’s when Tim Tebow was the Broncos' quarterback and before Peyton Manning played four win-filled seasons for the team.
It's a difficult environment that awaits the Houston Texans Monday night. With that in mind here are six Texans to watch, courtesy of ESPN NFL Nation Texans reporter Sarah Barshop:
QB Brock Osweiler: There will be a huge focus on Osweiler on Monday night, as he returns to the place he left for a four-year, $72 million contract during the offseason. Though this game is personal for the quarterback, he said he cannot let himself think about that as he gets ready and that he has to treat it “no different than any other game.” If Osweiler wants to win in Denver, he needs to play like he did in the fourth quarter and overtime of Sunday’s victory over the Colts and not the first three quarters. Osweiler has thrown eight touchdown passes and eight interceptions through six games for the Texans and will face a tough challenge against the Broncos’ impressive secondary.
RB Lamar Miller: The Texans saw Sunday why they need to continue to give the ball to Miller, who scored his first two touchdowns of the season. The running back had his second game of the year with over 100 yards rushing, and he was also involved in the passing game. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said this week, “the more we get Lamar the ball, probably the better. Because I think when he touches the ball usually good things happen.”
LT Duane Brown: Houston’s offensive line struggled at the beginning of the season, but it looked like it started to find its stride in Week 6, allowing just one sack of Osweiler against the Colts. O’Brien said he thought the line played well together in the win, which is the first full game Brown has played since he returned from injury. Brown and his fellow linemen will have to keep Osweiler upright against a tough Denver defense. The Broncos lead the league with 21 sacks this season and are the only team to have three players -- Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Shane Ray -- with at least four sacks in the league.
NT Vince Wilfork: Houston has not played well against the run so far this season and enters Monday’s game ranked 29th in the NFL, allowing an average of 126.3 rushing yards per game. O’Brien said this week that they have been giving up too many double-digit yardage runs, and that they need to improve in that area going forward. Wilfork will need to lead to charge against running back C.J. Anderson in the middle of the Texans’ defensive line.
CB A.J. Bouye: The Texans’ secondary is full of injuries, the latest of which is to cornerback Kevin Johnson, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Houston was also without cornerback Kareem Jackson and safety Quintin Demps on Sunday against the Colts, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the game with a forearm injury. O’Brien said Jackson, Demps and Joseph are all day-to-day, but Bouye will likely see a lot of playing time on Monday. With the Broncos’ receiving threats of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Bouye will be an important player on defense.
OLB Whitney Mercilus: Mercilus played well on Sunday, finishing with six combined tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a quarterback hit. The Texans rush the passer well, and they need to do so against Siemian. The Broncos have allowed 17 sacks, which is the fourth-most in the NFL this season. Six of those came in rookie Paxton Lynch's start against the Atlanta Falcons.