NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 HOU at DEN W2W4

W2W4: Denver Broncos

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
12:00
PM ET
The Denver Broncos (2-0) meet the Houston Texans on Saturday night (9 ET) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Three things to watch:

1. Hard feelings: After three practice days that featured plenty of extra-curricular jawing, shoving and, on Thursday, some punches thrown, some grumpiness could remain that could boil over in this game. The Broncos offense and the Texans defense simply did not get along this past week and Houston's do-it-all defensive end J.J. Watt seemed to be at the root of Denver's angst at times. Both tackle Chris Clark and guard Orlando Franklin had confrontations with Watt in drills after Watt had repeatedly shown why many personnel executives say he is simply the best defensive player in the game. Because of the fairly intense practices with the Texans, the Broncos may dial back some of the starters' work in this one, but when the Denver offense is on the field with the Texans defense it will be worth keeping an eye on the tempers on both sides of the equation.

2. An adjustment: With Jordan Norwood's season-ending knee injury this past week, the Broncos will reassess what they're going to do at wide receiver when the roster cuts come. When training camp opened the Broncos were poised to keep five receivers, but with his quality play, as well as his work at punt returner, Norwood had put himself in position to force the Broncos to keep six at the spot. But with Norwood injured the Broncos must now step back and see if they simply want to keep five at the position, or if another player can show them enough in the final two preseason games to be the sixth. Isaiah Burse is an option because of his ability in the return game. But he must handle the ball more consistently on special teams and he is more limited in the offense than Norwood was. Norwood played both outside spots in practice and lined up inside on a smattering of snaps. Burse has looked far more comfortable simply working out of the slot. Norwood's injury does leave the door cracked some for another player to force the issue.

3. Defensive front on front burner: Some of the most difficult decisions in the coming week will come on the defensive line. With their offseason work the Broncos turned a problem spot on the depth chart into perhaps the team's deepest position top to bottom. If the Broncos keep just eight players in the final cuts, there will be players sent on their way who were regulars in the rotation last season. They could keep nine, but there are other places on the roster where they may want to keep an additional player, including on special teams where the return jobs remain open. So, how the rotation goes from the first- to the second-team will bear watching in this one, especially on the interior where, again if they keep just eight, Mitch Unrein, Kevin Vickerson and Sione Fua may be playing for one spot.

W2W4: Houston Texans

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
12:00
PM ET
DENVER -- The Houston Texans (1-1) and Denver Broncos (2-0) face each other in their third preseason game Saturday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Here's what to watch for:

1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: He recovered in a big way from his uninspiring debut this preseason. Two scoring drives showed a marked improvement last weekend compared to his performance in the Texans' preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. The Fitzpatrick who appeared against the Falcons is much closer to the quarterback I've seen in practices lately than the one who could barely stay on the field in Arizona. His improvement needs to be a trend, though. Fitzpatrick needs to be more consistent, especially outside of two-minute drills.

2. The slot receivers: The position is a competitive these days. Mike Thomas was the early leader, and he has still looked excellent in practices, but don't count out Keshawn Martin. This week's game will be important for both. Thomas sat out last weekend against Atlanta after getting knocked in his helmet during the week of practices against the Falcons. Martin and undrafted rookie Travis Labhart really took advantage of his absence.

3. The secondary: The Texans' depth at defensive back grew before our eyes from Week 1 to Week 2. I don't expect starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph to play tonight, which means another serious look at those guys against the best passing game in the NFL. We'll couch this by saying preseason games involve a pared down playbook and little game-planning. But the Texans will still learn a lot by watching cornerbacks such as A.J. Bouye, Elbert Mack and Andre Hal, who have all had promising moments this preseason. Mack, especially, had a strong week against the Broncos in practice. He could fight his way onto the roster in the next two weeks.

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