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Monday Night Football Preview: Brock Osweiler Returns to Denver

Losers of two straight, the Broncos look to get off the schneid against the Texans.

The Denver Broncos have had 11 days to stew over their loss to the San Diego Chargers, their second consecutive loss after starting the season 4-0.

Now, the Broncos welcome a familiar face back to Mile High in quarterback Brock Osweiler.

"There's no ill will toward Brock. I am happy he got paid," Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall told the media earlier this week. "But it's competition. We want to kill him."

Welcome back, Brock.

After guiding the Broncos to a 5-2 record through the second half of the season last year, Osweiler gave way to Peyton Manning in the playoffs and watched as the team went on to win the Super Bowl. In the offseason, Osweiler, who was thought to be the favorite to start for the Broncos this season, instead opted to sign a four-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans.

It's been an up-and-down start for Osweiler and the Texans, who sit at 4-2, atop the AFC South. The Texans are coming off a comeback victory over the Indianapolis Colts in which Osweiler rallied the Texans from a 13-3 second half deficit.

The Broncos, meanwhile, also enter Week 7 at 4-2 and will be looking for a win to keep pace with division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, who now sit at 4-2 and 5-2, respectively, after coming away with wins on Sunday.

Here are four storylines to watch when Monday Night Football kicks off tonight.

Brock Osweiler Returns

This season has been a struggle for Osweiler. Through six weeks, he has thrown for only 8 touchdowns to go along with 8 interceptions while completing only 59 percent of his passes.

By using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can really see just how much of a struggle this year has been for Osweiler. NEP measures how many points a player is expected to add to his team's total based on historical expectation, and in terms of Passing NEP, Osweiler (0.34) entered the week ranked 27th among the 31 quarterbacks to drop back at least 100 times on the season.

And now, Osweiler returns to Denver Monday night to face a well-rested Broncos team, looking to rebound off two straight losses.

Although Osweiler has been in the league for four years, much of his career was spent holding the clipboard for Manning. Prior to this season, he had only started those seven games for the Broncos last season, a stretch in which he threw nine touchdowns to five interceptions.

In his return to Denver, Osweiler faces a stiff test in the Broncos' defense. According to our schedule-adjusted metrics, the Broncos boast the league's top-ranked defense.

It could prove to be a challenge for the Texans' offensive line to protect Osweiler. The Texans' offensive line has surrendered 43 quarterback hits, second-most through six weeks. Meanwhile, the Broncos lead the league in sacks with 20 over that same time frame.

Where Is DeAndre Hopkins?

Last season, DeAndre Hopkins ranked third in the league in receptions (111) and third in receiving yards (1,521), all while scoring 11 touchdowns. Through six games, Hopkins ranks in the top-10 in targets among wide receivers, but he is on pace to fall short of each of those marks from 2015. At his current rate, he'll record 82 receptions, 944 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

Hopkins' slow start can be attributed to a combination of factors.

As mentioned just above, Osweiler is struggling in his first season as the Texans' starter, and he's yet to find a consistent rhythm with Hopkins.

Additionally, Will Fuller has been impressive as a rookie, siphoning some of the workload away from Hopkins. Through six games, Fuller has drawn 40 targets, turning those into 20 receptions for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns.

By using NEP, we see that Fuller has actually been more productive than Hopkins has on a per-target basis.

Player Targets Receptions Reception NEP Reception NEP/Target
DeAndre Hopkins 57 31 34.99 0.61
Will Fuller 40 20 29.08 0.73

For reference, last season, Hopkins posted a 0.75 Reception NEP per target score, and the league average for receivers is roughly 0.67.

This week, both Hopkins and Fuller draw tough matchups against Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Through six weeks, our algorithm ranks the Broncos' pass defense as the second best on the year.

It should prove to be difficult for Hopkins to have a big game against Denver due to the matchup, and moving forward, Fuller seems just as likely to produce a big game as Hopkins is.

Time for More Devontae Booker?

After seeing his snap counts rise consistently from Week 1 to Week 5, Devontae Booker took a backseat to C.J. Anderson in the Week 6 loss to San Diego. But despite playing nearly a quarter of the snaps that Anderson did (15 to 57), Booker outproduced his teammate, turning 5 carries into 46 yards, while Anderson ran 10 times for only 37 yards.

Then, earlier this week, head coach Gary Kubiak said that Booker "deserves some more opportunities to touch the football."

Albeit on only about a third of the carries that Anderson has received, Booker has been the more productive back, according to our efficiency measures.

Player Rushes Rushing NEP Rushing NEP/Rush Success Rate
Devontae Booker 34 0.29 0.01 47.06%
C.J. Anderson 94 -8.16 -0.09 37.23%

Not only has Booker added more expected points to his team's total, but also his Rushing Success Rate is nearly 10 percentage points higher than Anderson's. A player's success rate is measured upon how many times he produced a positive Net Expected Points gain, so in this case, 47 percent of Booker's carries have increased the Broncos' chances of putting points on the board. Anderson's mark falls below the league average of roughly 39%.

Whether it's Booker or Anderson seeing the majority of the carries on Monday Night Football, they'll be facing a middle-of-the-road run defense in the Texans.

According to our metrics, Houston's run defense ranks 16th through six weeks. Opposing teams have averaged 126.3 rushing yards per game against the Texans.

How Will Trevor Siemian Bounce Back?

After missing Week 5 with a shoulder injury, Trevor Siemian returned in the Week 6 loss to San Diego but struggled, throwing for 230 yards and 1 touchdown on 50 pass attempts, by far his most attempts in a game on the season -- his previous high was 35.

Siemian told reporters this week that his shoulder feels much better and that the extra rest was helpful. Now, Siemian faces a stout Houston pass defense, which ranks sixth, according to our metrics. But the Texans will be without a top cornerback in Kevin Johnson, who was placed on injured reserve last week with a broken foot.

On the season, Siemian has completed 64.9 percent of his pass attempts but only has 7 touchdowns through five starts to go along with 3 interceptions.

According to our NEP metric, of the 31 quarterbacks to throw at least 100 passes on the year, Siemian ranks 21st in Passing NEP (15.24).

Game Projection

Vegas has set the over/under on this game at 40.5 with the Broncos as a 7.5-point favorite.

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