Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City will be the setting of perhaps the Denver Broncos' biggest game of the season this Sunday.
After a stunning overtime loss to the New England Patriots last in Week 12, the team must regroup and prepare for a showdown that will very likely decide the AFC West division and maybe much more.
The Broncos have already defeated the Chiefs once this season, a 27-17 victory in Week 11, playing a very efficient game that night in handing the Chiefs their first loss of the season.
In Kansas City, the Broncos will have to deal with the crowd noise. Aside from that, they should be able to put together a similar performance against the Chiefs, as long as they stick to what worked.
Here are the three biggest keys to pulling off a season sweep of Kansas City.
Forcing Kansas City into Third-and-Long Situations
The Broncos were successful in forcing the Chiefs into some tough third-down situations in the first meeting, allowing them to apply pressure on quarterback Alex Smith.
Facing 3rd-and-6 or longer, the Chiefs converted just 2-of-9. Smith was 4-for-8 passing for 31 yards in those situations.
The Chiefs just don't have an intimidating vertical passing game.
If the Broncos can put them in several situations where they need six or more yards on third down again, the Chiefs will struggle to convert.
In this play, Malik Jackson easily beats his man up the middle and has a straight lane to get his hands on Smith. Shaun Phillips also gets past the tackle. Jackson and Phillips split a sack on the play, as Smith goes from looking downfield to looking at the ground, bracing for impact.
On this 3rd-and-6 play, Smith has an open receiver in Dwayne Bowe. But Jackson is able to jump into his passing lane and knock down the pass with both hands.
Jackson turned in a very strong performance.
Finally, on this second-down play, defensive end Derek Wolfe tosses No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher aside and moments later, Smith again is the victim of a sack, forcing the Chiefs into a 3rd-and-27.
Bottling Up Jamaal Charles
There is no doubt that Jamaal Charles is one of the NFL's elite running backs. But against the Broncos in Week 11, he got just 16 carries for 78 yards.
Charles can be equally dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, but against Denver he had only two catches for minus six yards. Linebacker Danny Trevathan did a great job in the first meeting defending Charles in pass coverage.
Early in the game, the Chiefs had a 3rd-and-12 deep in their own territory. Both Trevathan and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie recognize a screen pass before it even develops.
The pass falls incomplete as Charles slipped, but even if he catches it, the two defenders are waiting to make a quick stop.
On this play, Charles tries to run off tackle, but the Broncos' defense sees it coming. Charles tries then to take it as far outside as he can, but he is met by a swarm of Denver defenders. The play results in a loss of three yards.
Here, Charles takes the handoff and tries to cut back, but Trevathan shows great discipline and quickly bursts through the hole to stop him.
Charles is the type of player who often makes NFL linebackers miss, but the second-year Trevathan makes an excellent one-on-one tackle.
For the Chiefs to win, they must find a way to get Charles more than 72 total yards of offense.
Keeping Peyton Manning Clean
Clearly, one of the biggest factors in Denver's win earlier this season was the fact that they did not allow the Kansas City pass rush to get to Peyton Manning.
This is what the Chiefs faced most all of the game.
Manning has a clear throwing lane, and he hits his target on the play for an easy completion. This was one of the few times Kansas City managed to get some pressure on Manning, but he was still ready.
With a perfect play called, Manning holds the ball for just a touch over one second, seeing wide receiver Eric Decker streak over the middle of the field. The linebacker covers the check down to the running back, but no one is close to Decker, who turns it into a 17-yard gain.
On the season, the Chiefs have amassed 37 total sacks but they barely got a hand on Manning.
There is no doubt the Chiefs defense left Denver extremely frustrated due to that fact, and they will be looking for a much different set of circumstances on Sunday. That makes the challenge for the Denver offensive line even greater in this meeting.
However, if Manning is able to stay upright and throw the ball the way he did in the first meeting, Kansas City's odds of winning will go down considerably.
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