Denver’s offense has scored more points (371) than any other team in NFL history through the first nine games of the year. The Broncos average 41.2 points per game, but they were only able to muster 28 points against the Chargers last week.
Peyton Manning is at the top of his game. He’s currently on pace to throw for more yards (5,776) and touchdowns (59) than any quarterback in NFL history.
If he doesn’t break the single-season passing-yardage record, he should at least throw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. Manning only needs to average 250.1 yards passing per game in order to reach that mark this season. His lowest passing total in a single game so far this year was in Week 6 against Jacksonville, when he had 295 yards.
Manning may be playing better than he ever has before during his illustrious career, but he’s not 100 percent healthy.
A re-aggravated high-ankle sprain against the Chargers forced Manning to miss practice on Wednesday. Even though he did not participate in practice, Manning did participate in the team’s walk-through. After practice, Manning talked about the walk-through and his recovery.
Yeah, I was able to do the walk-through. I’ll go through some of the different looks and then was able to use the rest of the time to try to get ahead with treatment, just try to get a day ahead. I was able to be in all the meetings, and got a good start on these guys, mentally, which is important. They’re a new defense, as far as having a new scheme, so last year’s film doesn’t carry a lot of weight. So you’ve got to study based on what you’ve seen this season—some of their new players and new defensive coordinator. They’re playing really well on defense, no question about that.
The Broncos have to do a better job of protecting Manning. They have a few different formulas they could use to increase the quality of pass protection moving forward. This week, they face a Chiefs defense that leads the league in sacks (36) after 10 weeks. Protecting Manning has to be priority No. 1, not only this week, but also for the rest of the season.
Against the Chargers, we saw Knowshon Moreno used more as a receiver out of the backfield. His eight catches led the team in Week 10. This could be a formula the team employs when facing a potent pass rush.
On Wednesday, I talked to Moreno on ESPN Denver and asked him what he thought about being used more as a receiver. “Whatever works, you know what I mean?” Moreno said. “They [Chiefs] fly around, play hard every play. They take advantage of all of your mistakes. We’ve got to make sure we’re on all of our keys and make sure we’re doing the right things.”
Defensively, the Broncos were able to slow down Philip Rivers and the Chargers' high-powered passing attack. Ever since Von Miller returned from his six-game suspension, the Broncos have been playing better defensively. In fact, the argument could be made that the Broncos have played better defense over the last three weeks than the Chiefs have.
The Chiefs are the last unbeaten team in the NFL. They’ve been able to win seven more games this season than they did all of 2012, when they finished with a 2-14 record.
The Chiefs sit atop the AFC West at 9-0 because of a strong ground game and a world-class defense.
Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the game today. He currently ranks among the top five in rushing yards this season (725), and he leads the Chiefs with 47 receptions so far this year.
The Broncos' rush defense is ranked fourth in the league, only allowing an average of 87.0 rush yards per game. It will be interesting to see how it handles Charles on Sunday.
It will also be interesting to see if the Chiefs' passing game can keep up with the Broncos' high-powered offense. The Chiefs may have to abandon the ground game in order to stay in the game.
This puts a ton of pressure on quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith is 30-5 as a starter over his last 35 games. He’s clearly a winner, and he’s quite efficient running the Andy Reid system with the Chiefs.
Smith may be a winner, but he is not known as a quarterback who helps put up a ton of points.
When an opponent scores 25 or more points, Smith’s career record is a pathetic 2-23. It’s a good thing the Chiefs have not allowed any opponent to score more than 17 points in a game this year.
The Broncos have one of the best run defenses in the league, and it's gotten better as a whole since the return of Miller. Facing Smith on Sunday, the Broncos should be able to harass him all night long.
If this game gets out of hand and becomes a shootout, then the Chiefs may be in trouble. They are simply not built to play in a high-scoring game.
Let’s take a look at how the Denver Broncos will attack the Kansas City Chiefs on both sides of the ball.
When the Broncos Run the Ball
The Chiefs' rush defense ranks 24th against the run, allowing an average of 118.6 rushing yards per game. They are stout in the middle of the defensive line and have linebackers who can clean up at the second level.
Kansas City has fierce edge-rushers who sometimes get too far upfield in an effort to get to the quarterback. This opens up rushing lanes underneath them.
Draw plays are a great way to slow down an opponent’s pass rush. In the picture below, we see Bills running back C.J. Spiller with a 29-yard gain up the middle. The Bills got the Chiefs out of position, and Spiller made them pay.
Moreno, Montee Ball C.J. Anderson are not the speed backs that Spiller is. If (and it’s a big IF) Ronnie Hillman plays, then this play design fits his skill set much better.
If the team declares Hillman inactive, then the other backs will have to make due on such plays.
When the Broncos Pass the Ball
While the Chiefs' rush defense is weak, their pass defense is strong. The Chiefs currently rank sixth against the pass, averaging 198.3 yards allowed per game. They will have their hands full with Manning on Sunday night.
The Broncos were very successful using play-action passes against the Chargers. That should continue to be a recipe for success against a sometimes overaggressive Chiefs defense. Like draw plays, screen passes are the perfect plays to slow down a pass rush.
Here we see the Bills execute a screen play to running back Fred Jackson. The Chiefs have seven defenders in the box. Derrick Johnson’s responsibility on this play is to keep an eye out for the screen. He’s unblocked at the snap but fails to see the wide receiver crashing in to block him. Jackson gets over 20 yards on this play.
Once a few screens have been run by the Broncos, it’s time to throw deep. Here we see the Bills lined up in an obvious passing situation. Safety Eric Berry has his eyes keenly fixed on the running back.
He follows Tashard Choice to the spot where a screen would be, but that’s not the play. Stevie Johnson is taking the attention of two players, including deep safety Kendrick Lewis, in the middle of the field.
Marquise Goodwin has Olympic speed, and he puts it to good use against single coverage on the outside. Lewis bites on the underneath route, and he’s too late to catch up to Goodwin by the time he realizes where the ball is going.
In the game against the Chargers, we saw Manning complete 100 percent of his passes on play-action fakes. The picture below shows the Chargers biting on the ball fake to Moreno.
Once safety Eric Weddle rushes to the sidelines to help cover Eric Decker, it leaves Moreno open underneath. Manning hits Moreno for an easy completion, and the Broncos move the chains.
When the Chiefs Run the Ball
The Chiefs have a fairly basic ground game. Charles is one of the best in the game today, but he only has one 100-yard rushing performance this season. The Chiefs are focused on getting him 100 all-purpose yards instead.
Charles is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. His speed is elite, and his moves in the open field can break ankles.
In the picture below, we see the Chiefs in 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end). They are showing power on the right side after the tight end motions from right to left.
As the ball is snapped, the tight end moves over to block on the right side of the line. Fullback Anthony Sherman then looks like he’s going to blast a hole around the left edge.
Defenders are taught that the fullback will lead you to the ball-carrier. Instinctively, the Giants linebackers move towards Sherman. This leaves a huge void in the middle of the field that Charles is able to exploit.
The Broncos have to play with discipline against Charles. If they get out of position, then a big play like this can happen.
When the Chiefs Pass the Ball
The Chiefs don’t have an elite passing game. They currently rank 27th in passing offense, averaging a paltry 198.3 yards per game through the air.
Against the Broncos, they may have to go to the passing game more than they’re comfortable with.
This play below shows the Chiefs in max protect near the red zone. The receivers on the outside run vertical routes, and Alex Smith takes a shot deep right to Dwayne Bowe.
This play was a touchdown by Bowe, largely due to poor tackling in the Giants secondary. This play shows how the Chiefs will try to back a defense up with the vertical game.
They will also use Jamaal Charles extensively as a receiver. On this play, Charles is lined up wide right as the “Z” receiver.
As the ball is snapped, he runs a drag route across the middle of the field. Smith holds the defense with his gaze, looking to the right to manipulate the secondary. He then turns to the middle and hits Charles for an easy completion.
In addition to Charles, the Broncos have to be on the lookout for Dexter McCluster. The Chiefs will find ways to get him the ball if they need a big play.
In this picture, we see McCluster lined up next to Smith in the shotgun formation. Before the ball is snapped, McCluster motions to the left side of the field.
He initially runs a jab route for a yard or two, selling the defense on a go route. McCluster then stops and comes back to secure the screen pass. This play was one of the biggest the Chiefs have had through the air this season.
The Chiefs will try to use what I call “Football Kung Fu” against the Broncos. They’ll use Denver’s strength (their pass rush) against them with screen passes like this.
This is going to be an epic game. There are a lot of playoff implications riding on this one. If the Broncos win, they will once again sit atop the AFC West. If the Chiefs win, then they will be two games up on the Broncos and could run away with the division title.
Not only is AFC West supremacy on the line, but this game could also decide who wins home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Broncos want to be the top seed in the AFC, then they have to take care of business this week.
Denver needs to play disciplined against game-breakers like Charles and McCluster. It must make Smith uncomfortable with the pass rush and force the Chiefs out of their comfort zone.
The magic number is 25. If the Broncos can get to 25 points, then Smith and the Chiefs may have a difficult time coming out on top.
This should be a great game, and nearly a must-win for the Broncos. It’s must-see TV that all NFL fans will enjoy.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.