The Denver Broncos are on a two-game winning streak. The Kansas City Chiefs are on a two-game skid. What do the Broncos need to do to keep it rolling against the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football?
A seemingly rejuvenated defense and an irritated Joe Flacco seems to have the Denver Broncos heading in the right direction. After starting the season 0-4, and looking completely inept (Dolphin-esque, if you will) in the process, Denver has won its last two contests by playing the type of defense that saw them win it all in 2015.
The streak started after the Broncos shut down Philip Rivers and the LA Chargers, limiting them to just 249 yards of total offense and zero offensive touchdowns, while tallying two interceptions. In Week 6, the Tennessee Titans became the second consecutive victims in a game which saw them bench their starting quarterback in favor of veteran Ryan Tannehill. This game saw the offense put up 237 yards against the Broncos, score zero points, commit two turnovers and take seven sacks. Yes, the vaunted Denver defense is back.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in the midst of the longest losing streak of Patrick Mahomes’ young career. After narrowly escaping defeat in Detroit in Week 4, Kansas City produced its two lowest offensive output in the Mahomes’ Era in Week 5 (13 points) and Week 6 (24 points), both Chiefs losses.
What do the Broncos need to do on Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs in order to keep up their momentum and put themselves in the conversation as a playoff dark horse, if not AFC West contender? Let’s take a look.
Despite their seven-sack explosion last Sunday against the Titans, the Broncos defense still has just 12 sacks on the season. That means that in the first five games, the team managed just one sack per contest. The Lions, Colts and Texans demonstrated that with a makeshift offensive line, and a bum ankle, that the best way to get Mahomes out of rhythm is to apply pressure early and often.
The Broncos certainly have the talent to do it, most notably in All-Pro linebacker Von Miller. But expect Kansas City to make adjustments to limit their impact. In addition, consider that Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has dominated Miller since joining Kansas City, and the Chiefs are riding a seven-game winning streak against the Broncos as a result. In fact, Peyton Manning was still the quarterback the last time Denver beat KC.
If that’s going to change this time around, Denver will have to make Mahomes try to move. If his ankle is still bothering him, which it almost assuredly is, he’ll rush his passes/routes and make erratic decisions, like he has the last two weeks. Given that Andy Reid has refused to implement a more robust running game, this is the right time for head coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Joe Woods to dial up the blitz.
Pound the Rock
Kansas City boasts the 30th-ranked rush defense in terms of yards per game this season, giving up a staggering 161.8 per contest. The Broncos’ 116 yards per game on the ground put them in the top half of the league. When above-average meets very bad, the above-average team tends to look pretty good.
The Broncos should give Kansas City’s front seven a healthy dose of Phillip Lindsey and Royce Freeman on Thursday. If the two combine for less than 40 carries, or if Flacco is asked to throw more than 25 times, the Broncos are approaching the game all wrong.
Run the ball, watch the Chiefs defense crumble, and control the best route to winning the game: keeping Mahomes and Co. off the field.
Kansas City’s defense has been terrible. But one place where its excelling is in the ability to toughen up in the red zone and prevent opponent touchdowns. This allowed them to win the game in Detroit, and was the only reason they were remotely competitive against the Colts. In fact, they have only allowed a touchdown on 50 percent of opponents’ red zone drives (10th best in the league) and have actually improved that stat in road contests, all the way down to 40 percent (which alone would be the third-best in the league).
When Denver gets the opportunity to put up six versus three, they have to come away with six. Only once has a Mahomes-led offense put up less than 24 points (Week 5 against the Colts) in 23 career starts. The Broncos must be efficient in the red zone in order to score enough points to keep the Chiefs at bay. Do that, and they’ll find themselves in position to win the game on Thursday night.