Since suffering a left foot injury in a preseason loss in Seattle, Bailey has played in just three games this season. He played one full outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars, left the loss in Indianapolis after aggravating the injury, then removed himself from the lineup after 30 plays in the Dec. 1 win in Kansas City.
“I do feel like I do still have my speed and my quickness -- I have to in order to be able to play out there," Bailey said Thursday. “I feel good about what I can do. I think now it’s just being smart about how I go about doing it, and making sure I don’t have any setbacks and I don’t wear myself down or anything like that. The good thing is I’m fresh, I’m ready to go. I’ve had some time off and I’m ready to go."
“(It’s) hard for coaches to tell the difference between a guy being healthy and ready," said Broncos head coach John Fox. “He’s had a good week thus far, we’ll see how it works out this week ... (but) it was pretty evident in the game, you know, he wasn’t quite ready ... You learn, he learns."
Players who return from injuries often speak of physically being cleared by the doctors to return, but that there is often a lag time between that medical clearance and believing whatever was repaired, whatever has healed will hold up on the field. Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno, on the brink of his first 1,000-yard rushing season, has come back from both an ACL surgery late in the 2011 season, and another knee procedure this past offseason. He has often spoke of the “first big cut you make on the knee" or the first “big hit you take" to start believing.
This is just the second time Bailey has missed at least seven games in a season -- he missed seven with a groin injury in 2008 -- but the first time he didn’t just jump back in the lineup and quickly find his rhythm. The first time he's had to go back and try again.
“Regardless of how we’re playing it’s hard to watch," Bailey said. “But I do what I can to help these guys get prepared every week, that’s what I’ve been doing. I still do the same thing this week, except I’ll be out there. I’m looking forward to getting out there and helping them while I’m on the field."
It figures to be a measured return with Bailey expected to work into the lineup the most when the Broncos are in their nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) packages. It’s how the Broncos had played Bailey against the Chiefs before he left the game.
That’s still plenty of work, as the Broncos were in the nickel or dime for 39 defensive snaps against the Chargers this past week to go with three snaps of a seven-defensive back look.
“Any time you’re dealing with an injury, there’s a physical component where you have to heal, and then mentally you have to get the work in, develop the skill again, or sharpen up the skill again," said Broncos defensive coorinator Jack Del Rio. “And that’s really where we are ... We need him to help us, we think he can."
Bailey was asked Thursday if the injury had him thinking about retirement, and he said with a laugh; “Oh no. I’m thinking about winning on Sunday.”
Asked if the struggle to get back had him thinking about his long-term future, Bailey simply said he’s thinking about the here and now. About the Texans.
“Not really, not more than normal," Bailey said. “I think we all have to think long-term, especially financially. Right now I’m just concentrating on getting my foot right and getting back on the field. That’s really where my head has been."
Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is making progress in the NFL's concussion protocol, but is still expected to be ruled out for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, sources told ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.
Fox Sports reported Thursday night that Welker would miss his second straight game.
Welker did not participate in Thursday's practice but spent some of the workout in the Broncos' weight room. Broncos coach John Fox said Welker also did some on-field work outside as well.
Welker also suffered a concussion in the Broncos' win Nov. 17 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Welker, 32, has 73 receptions for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games this season.
Information from ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold was used in this report.
With opposing offenses routinely forced into hurry-up-and-chase mode against the Broncos' jet stream offense and the Broncos' ability to stop most of the runs they saw, it was all something that provided the jumping-off point to fix the rest.
And then the San Diego Chargers showed up in Denver last Thursday night and shoved the Broncos' defense around enough for 177 yards rushing, including 127 yards from Ryan Mathews. With that, Mathews became the first running back this season to top 100 yards rushing against the Broncos.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to have a loss to get that sense of urgency, but I think the sense of urgency is getting back -- we know what we can do,’’ Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We’ve been preaching all year what type of team that we have and what we‘re capable of. It’s about that time for us to start putting it out there on the field.’’
San Diego’s 44 carries were a season high for an opposing offense against the Broncos this season. And of the three games the Broncos' defense has faced at least 35 rushing attempts, two have been against San Diego and coach Mike McCoy, the Broncos' former offensive coordinator. Has McCoy given Denver's potential AFC playoff opponents a blueprint on how to bully the Broncos?
And there is the matter of trying to fix the run fits and tackling when there is little tackling in practice during the season, especially 14 games into a season.
Still, Broncos coach John Fox will routinely put the team in pads for Wednesday’s practice and while no team would tackle to the ground to this point, defenders still square up and make full contact. Last week, however, because of a quick turnaround before a Thursday night game, the Broncos took a more measured approach to practice as the team was simply trying to recover with four days in between games.
This week the Broncos put the gear back on and also turned back the clock a bit in drills, going back to basics.
“One thing Coach Fox does, we’re going at it,’’ Del Rio said. “[Wednesday] was a pretty physical practice, back to the fundamentals, how we do things, and I think that’s refreshing, that’s good for our guys. Not everybody feels that way in December, but it was good work.’’
Beyond last Thursday's effort, however, Del Rio said he believes the Broncos' run defense has been a strength for much of the season, even though the point totals – they’ve allowed 26.6 points per game – continue to be an enormous red flag for a team that hopes for so much when the postseason begins.
Perhaps why the Broncos aren't standing pat with their personnel. With the Chargers able to run against both the Broncos’ base defense, as well as some of the specialty packages, Denver decided to add defensive line depth. Earlier in the week, the Broncos released one of their own former draft picks and former starters – center J.D. Walton – to add defensive end Jeremy Mincey.
Mincey played for Del Rio in Jacksonville. It comes after the Broncos have already moved linebacker Wesley Woodyard out of the base defense much of the time over the past two games and instead played Paris Lenon at middle linebacker in early-down situations.
“There’s just certain things you’ve got to do to be good on defense and part of it is stopping people from running the ball right at you like that,’’ Del Rio said. “We’ve been good for the most part. In the two years I’ve been here, we’ve been pretty solid in that, and I don’t expect that to change.’’
If the Texans on Sunday attempt the same keep-away strategy the Chargers did, Houston will try it with rookie Dennis Johnson at running back with starter Ben Tate having moved to injured reserve earlier this week. Johnson, at 5-foot-7, 193 pounds, was cut in August after fumbling three times in preseason and was on the Cleveland Browns practice squad when the Texans brought him back.
He had 74 yards on 13 carries in Houston’s Nov. 24 loss to Jacksonville, but has carried the ball just 10 times in the past three games combined.
“I feel like, it’s not that we haven’t played great, it’s just been inconsistent,’’ Miller said. “Those great defenses are solid all the way around. We just have to chain together 60 minutes being urgent, confident the whole game.’’
“We know there’s more we can do,’’ Woodyard said. “It’s about everybody just doing their job, what they’re supposed to do. Just being in the right spot, getting off blocks and making some plays.’’
“The exercise is picking up,’’ Fox said. “They’re doing more and more with him in the weight room, running around out here a little bit and … he’s doing better every day.’’
Welker, who suffered a concussion just before halftime of the Broncos’ victory over the Tennessee Titans, was held out of last Thursday night’s loss to the San Diego Chargers. Welker also suffered a concussion in the Broncos' win Nov. 17 over the Kansas City Chiefs.
He has not taken part in a practice since, but his work with the strength coaches is an indication he was cleared Thursday, as part of the league’s concussion protocol to begin the “light exercise’’ portion of the recovery. Welker will continue to be evaluated for symptoms and would have to remain symptom-free after this initial work to be allowed to progress to return to the practice field.
Before he can play in a game Welker would have to be declared symptom-free by both the Broncos’ medical staff and a designated independent physician who has been approved by both the NFL and NFL Players Association.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster, who had surgery Friday to repair a fractured right thumb, was also held out of Thursday’s practice. Webster will miss Sunday’s game, but is expected to be able to play using a cast on his thumb in the regular-season finale in Oakland. Defensive end Derek Wolfe also did not practice, but Fox said Wolfe continues to make progress.
Fox also alluded, following Thursday’s practice, to a possible return to the lineup in the postseason for Wolfe.
“He was in Monday, he looks a lot better (Thursday) than he did Monday,’’ Fox said. “Again he’s exercising more, getting kind of acclimated to the workout part of playing football, we’ll see what the rest of this week and next week bring.’’
But there is the matter of history as well. Over these next two weeks, the Broncos offense and quarterback Peyton Manning are nudging toward a pile of records that could be broken if the Broncos have to play it honest all the way through the regular-season finale in Oakland.
So, after some numbers crunching and tip of the holiday hat to the fine folks at ESPN Stats and Information, here are some numbers of note as the Broncos prepare for a trip to Houston:
- Should the Broncos win the AFC West title -- they would if they win their final two games or any combination of one more win to go with a Chiefs loss -- it will be the first time in the franchise’s history the team has won three consecutive division titles. If that happens San Diego will have finished second in two of those years -- 2011 and 2012 -- while the Chiefs would be second this year.
- The Broncos need 55 points to break the league’s single-season scoring record. With 535 points currently in hand, they are already the highest scoring team in league history after 14 games. They are also already the highest scoring team in the franchise’s history. If they didn’t score another point their total would be the eighth highest single-season total in NFL history. If they score 26 points over their final two games they would rise to the No. 2 spot. The 2007 New England Patriots set the record with 589 points. With 65 points over their final two games, the Broncos would also become the league’s first 600-point team.
- The Broncos aren’t considered one of the league pound-it-out teams on offense, but they are still tied with Cincinnati for sixth in rushing attempts this season 414. Their 16 rushing touchdowns also tie them for second in the league, with San Francisco.
- After 14 games the Broncos are one of seven teams that have been penalized at least 117 times this season, including penalties that were declined. Five of those seven teams also reside west of the Mississippi, one albeit by just a few miles. But the leaders in the yellow flag parade so far this season are Seattle (125), Oakland (125), Tampa Bay (125), Houston (120), St. Louis (117), Denver (117) and Buffalo (117). For the Broncos they have been flagged the most for offensive holding -- 20 times, five by right tackle Orlando Franklin, four by left tackle Chris Clark -- and 13 times for defensive holding.
- With 47 touchdown passes in 14 games Manning needs three more to tie the single-season record of 50, set by Tom Brady in 2007. After 14 games in 2007, Brady had 45 touchdown passes and threw three against Miami in Week 16 and two more against the New York Giants in the regular-season finale. The Patriots threw the ball 75 times in those two games combined.
- In his career against the Texans, Manning is 16-3 with 44 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
- The Broncos, coming off a loss last Thursday night to the Chargers haven’t lost two games in a row since Weeks 2 and 3 last season, losses to Atlanta and Houston. Since that Sept. 23, 2012, loss to Houston, the Texans are 12-15 with a current 12-game losing streak. The Broncos are 23-4 in regular-season games since that loss to the Texans last season and have won their four games following those losses by an average of 18.3 points.
Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.
"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."
This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.
Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.
On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.
Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?
Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.
Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?
Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.
You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?
Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.
An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?
Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.
That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?
Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.
How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?
Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.
The postseason, although still forming, portends a similar theme.
Twelve teams will receive playoff bids, six from each conference. But even while recognizing the history of upstart champions, I'm having a hard time looking past a handful of likely winners for Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seattle Seahawks, who haven't lost at CenturyLink Field since roughly 1937, are on their way to clinching the NFC's home-field advantage. (They could do it a early as Sunday with a victory over the Arizona Cardinals.) Who among their possible opponents could go to Seattle and knock them out?
It's difficult to envision big things for the New Orleans Saints, who have been outscored 61-23 in their past two road games and are in danger of losing their presumptive NFC South title to the Carolina Panthers. And because we're in the holiday season, we simply won't discuss the middling title chances of the eventual NFC North and NFC East champions.
The Panthers and San Francisco 49ers both fit the profile of playoff upstarts. The Panthers have won nine of their past 10 games, and the 49ers are riding a four-game winning streak. The Panthers were competitive in a Week 1 home loss to the Seahawks, and the 49ers beat them two weeks ago at Candlestick Park.
Recent history suggests a tough road for both teams, however. The Seahawks have won five consecutive home playoff games and have lost only once in the postseason at CenturyLink, a one-score game in the 2004 wild-card round. At the moment, the Seahawks must be considered heavy, heavy favorites.
The AFC presents perhaps a bigger dichotomy of playoff contenders. The Denver Broncos have demonstrated clear superiority to the conference's next-best team, the Kansas City Chiefs, by sweeping their regular-season series. The New England Patriots beat the Broncos in overtime at home, but they are no longer the same team after losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a knee injury.
The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals? Both are 9-5, but both have played at a .500 clip over their past six games and have substantial roster holes caused by injuries. In reality, the team that might scare the Broncos the most is the same team that knocked them out of the 2012 playoffs: the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have won four consecutive games and five of their past six and might be hitting their stride at the perfect time. They did not match up well in the teams' regular-season opener, a 49-27 Broncos victory, but we've seen this late-season act before.
Much could change in the next two weeks, of course. But if we're taking stock on the eve of Week 16, the realistic Super Bowl field seems relatively small.
In a 31-25 Texans victory on Sept. 23, 2012, Watt played 67 snaps and made seven tackles, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss and hit Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning three times. Or, to put it another way, Watt initiated more contact than Manning has had in some months during his career.
Things have changed, at least from the Texans' perspective in the months, since. On Sunday, the Broncos will face a 2-12 Texans team that has already fired its coach, Gary Kubiak, a team that is facing many more changes in the coming offseason.
But from the Broncos’ perspective, Watt remains Job 1, and if they don’t handle him any better than they did last season, Manning will be in harm’s way at a time when the postseason is fast approaching.
Watt has 9.5 sacks this season, well below the pace he kept last season when he finished with 20.5. But Houston interim coach Wade Phillips says that’s far more a factor of the attention Watt is getting from opposing offenses than dip in his performance.
So much so that Watt currently leads the league in hits on the quarterback, Phillips said Wednesday.
“He’s probably the best defensive lineman in the league, so I wouldn’t be critical of him at all,’’ Phillips said, adding, “He gets the center, the guard or somebody extra on him most of the time. He still makes plays in the backfield, he still makes plays hitting the quarterback. People say [his] sacks are down because he’s not playing as well, but that’s not true at all.’’
The difficulty Watt presents to an offensive line is what Manning touched on. Athletically, Watt has the short-area quickness of a much smaller player, with explosiveness and power. That alone would win him plenty of matchups. But he also plays with a never-stop ferocity that enables him to sack a quarterback well into the play, even if he has been slowed down initially.
The Broncos had some issues against a 3-4 front in their loss to the Chargers last Thursday night; defensive end Corey Liuget repeatedly found room to work, finding success in the gap between left tackle Chris Clark and left guard Zane Beadles. Liuget flushed Manning from the pocket, leading to a Chargers sack, and also rushed and hit Manning’s arm to force an interception.
The Broncos may be forced into some additional two-tight-end looks to give some help up front. It could mean the running backs have to take a look at how things are going in pass protection before they release into the pattern.
In the end, the Broncos will have to think long and hard about just how often they want to line up in their preferred three-wide set and risk letting Watt work against a far more open formation to get at Manning.
“And that’s all I’ve got right now, that's all I came to Denver with,’’ said defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who has landed on his feet over the past four days just about as well as any player who has passed through the waiver wire this season.
Mincey, after being late for team meetings multiple times this season, was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) Friday and signed by the Broncos on Tuesday. So, he went from a team that opened the season 0-8 to finding himself in a locker room filled with Super Bowl aspirations. Mincey said his other suitors this week were the Dallas Cowboys (7-7) and the New Orleans Saints (10-4).
Mincey played for Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in five seasons during Del Rio’s tenure as Jaguars head coach. Del Rio was a resource for the Broncos as the team tried to decide whether or not to sign Mincey after the bumpy ride the sixth-year veteran had in Jacksonville this season.
In addition to the tardiness that got him released, Mincey had also been left off a road trip – to Houston – last month when he was late for a previous team meeting. Mincey had also been a game day inactive against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 1. The Broncos talked to Jaguars general manager David Caldwell before coming to terms with Mincey.
“He’s a guy we thought could help our football team,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said. “We’ve got people that know him, know about his production. … The guy’s got a clean slate coming in here.’’
“Things happen, but I’m here with the Denver Broncos now. I’m all in with the Denver Broncos now,’’ Mincey said. “I get to play with Hall of Famers Champ Bailey and Peyton Manning … it’s an honor and a pleasure to be with the Denver Broncos.’’
Asked what happened as he went from a player who signed a $20 million contract with the Jaguars in March of 2012 to the waiver wire last week with questions about his work ethic in tow, Mincey cited a lack of postseason opportunities in his time with the Jaguars -- they made the playoffs in one season in his time there. He also called himself a “self-motivated’’ player.
“Inspiration, when you’re inspired about something, it’s hard to let yourself down,’’ Mincey said. “ … I was lacking a lot of inspiration there, I was on a treadmill there. I’m glad the off switch came and I fell off on to a better treadmill.’’
Mincey, who also missed three games earlier this season with a concussion, arrives at a time when the Broncos are searching for answers on defense. With some injuries, to go with linebacker Von Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season, the Broncos have been out of sorts for much of the year on that side of the ball. The Broncos will not play the 11 starters they expected to have on defense during this season and they have tried a variety of combinations in a variety of situations, even dialing back the playing time of a team captain in linebacker Wesley Woodyard to try to get things right.
Yet they are 24th in the league in points allowed this season (26.6 per game), 23rd in yards allowed (371.5 per game) and 28th in pass defense (266.2 yards allowed per game). And while their run defense had been one thing they had hung their hat amid all of the other troubles, the San Diego Chargers then rushed for 177 yards last Thursday night, repeatedly getting the edge against the Broncos defense.
Mincey, given his history with Del Rio, is expected to enter the rotation quickly. He said he could “most definitely’’ play against the Texans Sunday if the Broncos wanted him to. He’s played in just eight games this season, totaling 16 tackles and two sacks.
Both are by far his lowest output since he became a starter in Jacksonville in 2010. He had five sacks in 2010 to go with eight, and 57 tackles overall, in 2011.
“Football is football and I’m not the dumbest guy in the room,’’ Mincey said. “I got a clean slate. … I’m ready to be a Denver Bronco, the past is past.’’
"I think we've done a good job of treating all our opponents the same," Manning said following practice Wednesday. "... It's all about Houston, I think we've done a good job taking things week to week. I think we've prepared well each week. We haven't always played as well as would have liked. You like to transfer good practices to the playing field ... it's really all the focus is."
So Manning will discuss the Texans defensive personnel, especially their tandem at defensive end in Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt. He'll talk about the differences in having Wade Phillips in place as an interim coach than if Gary Kubiak were still on the job and how it essentially gives the Texans a "new defensive coordinator" with Houston secondary coach Vance Johnson now calling plays on defense.
Manning will talk about the Texans' pass defense, the role of the Broncos' running game in the offense and what wide receiver Andre Caldwell can do in the Broncos' offense with Wes Welker sidelined with a concussion.
But MVP award, records and the like? Not so much.
"It does not get heated up for me," Manning said of the award conversation. "When you're in the middle of the season ... That is plenty on my plate to focus on. I know that's probably not the answer you're looking for, but that is all my focus is on and that's the way it has to be -- getting myself ready to play and helping our offense get ready to play to go on the road to beat a team that's really played well on defense, I think."
With 47 touchdown passes in 14 games, a total that includes a staggering seven games with at least four touchdown passes, Manning is two away from tying his single-season career best of 49 (2004) and just three away from the NFL season record of 50 set by Tom Brady in 2007. Manning's 4,811 yards passing are the most ever after 14 games in a season and he's within shouting distance of Drew Brees' record of 5,476 yards, set in 2011.
But asked Wednesday about the potential to carve out a little more space for himself in the league's record book, Manning stuck to the Texans.
"We're trying to get a win," Manning said. "We were disappointed about last week's game -- didn't play our best game, got beat, got whipped in a lot of areas.
"I would hope we would respond to that loss with a better performance this week. It doesn't guarantee anything. There are a lot of teams that get mad when they lose and say 'we're going to play better next week.' And it doesn't happen. So it's about preparing and practice well and hoping we can transfer that to the playing field, and that's what I'm focused on."
Broncos head coach John Fox did weigh in at least some on those topics. Asked what his case would be for Manning to win a fifth MVP award -- Manning is the only four-time winner of the trophy in league history -- the Broncos head coach was more than willing to stand by his guy.
"I think it's fairly well documented a year ago -- no disrespect to anybody -- but I think he had that type of season a year ago," Fox said. "I don't think there's any question the kind of season he's having this year, and not just individual records, I think his win-loss record and team success speaks for itself. I don't think it's close, personally."