The Kansas City Chiefs take on the Denver Broncos Sunday night in the most anticipated regular season game this year. The game features the best offense and defense in the league: Denver’s offense scores the most points, and Kansas City’s defense allows the least. It’s the two best teams in the NFL in a primetime fight.
You’ve heard how Peyton Manning started the season. He threw seven touchdowns in the first game and then continued to masterfully dissect defenses week after week. Blah blah blah. But what you didn’t know is that in the last few weeks, Manning has come back down to earth. His QBR (on scale of 0-100, 50 is average) went from in the low 90′s to down around the upper 60′s. That’s not terrible, it just isn’t top of the league any more. His arm has looked weak in recent games, under-throwing deep receivers and just seeming a little slower. Manning isn’t at the same level he was when the season started and it seems to perfectly coincide with the week the Chiefs come to Denver.
The Kansas City defense matches up extremely well against the Broncos offense. Manning isn’t a very mobile quarterback, it’s one part of his game that has repeatedly been exposed, and Kansas City leads the NFL in sacks. One of their strongest assets is that both outside linebackers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, require double teams to truly stop them. Offenses can’t afford four linemen to stop two players.
A good pass rush by the Chiefs will give Manning less time to find his targets from the pocket. The passes will come out faster, before the receivers can get deep down the field. The Broncos will anticipate this. Watch for short, quick slants and out routes to Wes Welker whenever Manning identifies an oncoming blitz.
The Broncos will also test the defensive backs. Every once in awhile, Manning will try a deep pass to Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker. There is a chance that the defensive backs will be playing too shallow, trying to prevent those quick passes. Manning hopes one of his receivers will find his cover man expecting the short pass therefore allowing the receiver to get space downfield, making a long completion easier.
Then there is the tight end situation that the Chiefs will have to cover. Julius Thomas is going to be another threat, he’s too big for a safety to cover, and he’s too fast for a linebacker. There needs to be someone with an eye on Thomas at all times, maybe even some kind of zone coverage. Manning is very good at dumping off passes to tight ends when needed.
The Chiefs have the players to compete with the Broncos passing attack, but they have to play smart. The slightest mistake gives Manning the chance to move the ball. Every Denver drive that does not score a touchdown is a modest achievement.
However there is flaw in the KC defense. They allow 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, the worst in the league. This could be a major problem except that opposing teams have only attempted 214 rushing plays, the 5th fewest attempts against any defense. It’s a dilemma that the Chiefs have been able to avoid so far, but could be the deciding factor in such a huge game.
It would be beneficial for the Broncos to exploit the Kansas City defense’s weaknesses. Denver attempts 28 rushes a game, higher than league average, but has seen only 3.7 yards per attempt. Their running game isn’t their strength, so I don’t see them abandoning the pass, but the Denver runningbacks will be able to contribute on short down and distance situations.
Even so, the Chiefs still have a very good chance of winning this game. Kansas City’s style of play, heavy blitzes and good coverage, clashes perfectly with Denver’s style of play. The Chiefs have surprised many people with their defense this season, and now is not the time to stop surprising.
Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch.