(SportsRadio 610) - When Denver quarterback Russell Wilson takes his first snap against the Texans’ defense on Sunday, he won’t recognize the secondary.
The last time Wilson played against the Texans was Dec. 12 of last season. He led his former team, Seattle, to a 33-13 victory at NRG Stadium, throwing for 260 yards and two touchdowns without an interception and compiling a 115.2 rating.
When Wilson surveys the Texans’ defense for the first time, he’ll see four new starters in the secondary – cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Steven Nelson and safeties Jalen Pitre and Jonathan Owens.
And there’s a fifth new defensive starter Wilson will have to keep an eye on, 34-year-old end Jerry Hughes, who intercepted a pass and recorded two sacks in his debut with the Texans, a 20-20 tie with Indianapolis.
Even though Wilson doesn’t have to contend with the Texans’ offense, they’ll have five – and possibly six – new starters on that side of the ball.
Like the Texans, Wilson has undergone a lot of change in his 11th season. His controversial exit from Seattle, the trade to Denver, signing a $245 million contract extension and losing his first game with the Broncos 17-16 to the Seahawks when rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett took the ball out of Wilson’s hands and tried an ill-fated 64-yard field goal.
The last thing the Broncos want to do is suffer a monumental upset at home to the Texans, and Wilson will be trying to extend his record against them to 4-0. He ignited the Seahawks to victories over the Texans in 2013 and 2017 before making it three in a row in 2021.
“Russell has been a good quarterback for a long period of time,” coach Lovie Smith said. “(He) can make all the throws (and has) good wide receivers. He’s mobile and smart. They have a commitment to the run, also.”
Wilson bombarded Smith’s defense last season. Since Smith still makes the defensive calls, he’s got to find a way to reduce Wilson’s impact on the game. He’s changed teams, but he can still do exceptional things.
In the Broncos’ one-point loss to the Seahawks, Wilson threw for 340 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and finished with a 101.3 rating.
“I had an opportunity to go against him, and I’d say we’re dealing with some similar things with him,” Smith said. “He’s an accurate thrower and makes smart decisions. That kind of opens everything else up.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, the person doesn’t change lot. Maybe some of the calls have. I see a similar offensive attack when we played the Seahawks last year. Nowadays, quarterbacks have a big say in what teams do, especially guys that have been around the game for a while.”
No player on the Texans’ defense knows Wilson better than Nelson, an eight-year veteran who signed as a free agent in March and immediately won a starting job.
“I’ve played him a few times,” Nelson said. “Dual threat. He can create a lot of time (and it) definitely adds a different element. It means on the back end, we have to cover a little longer.”
Wilson, who relies heavily on his mobility, is a different challenge for the defense compared to the Colts’ Matt Ryan, who doesn’t like to roll out or run unless absolutely necessary.
“(That) makes it a different competition,” Nelson said. “Matt Ryan is more of a pocket passer. Russell Wilson can move around and do things on the ground and make things happen that way.”
Wilson is still adjusting to his new receivers, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Against the Seahawks, Jeudy caught four passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Sutton had four receptions for 82 yards.
Jeudy is a deep threat. Sutton can get open deep but prefers to run short and intermediate routes to complement Jeudy.
“Those two guys get after it,” Nelson said. “They’re different types of receivers (and) it makes our jobs more interesting. We’ve got to study two different playing styles.
“(Sutton) kind of elevated himself to be that No. 1 guy. He just stepped up in a major way.”
Stingley and Pitre have watched Wilson for years, but they’ll be playing against him for the first time, of course.
“A lot of times,” Pitre said about watching Wilson as a kid growing up in Houston. “He’s a great quarterback, a great leader, and I’m excited to play against him. It’s a blessing.”
The Texans should have defeated Indianapolis, leading 20-3 early in the fourth quarter and settling for a controversial tie that caused Smith to receive a lot of criticism.
Being in position to upset the Colts should give the Texans’ younger players confidence when they tangle with the Broncos.
“I think it gives us a lot of hope,” Pitre said. “We feel really good about what we did with everybody saying the odds were stacked against us. We knew we were going to play a hard, tough game. We weren’t going to give them anything. I feel like we got a lot to build on.”
Fans will get a better idea Sunday of just how much building the Texans can do.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.