It’s Bronco week. Do I need to open with anything else?
In what some would say is the biggest game so far this season, the NFL’s lone undefeated team travels to take on their biggest rival with a share of first place on the line. On top of that, the NFL found it necessary to move this game into it’s prime time slot to show the world just exactly what these two teams are made of.
Almost everyone outside of Kansas City only knows what they see on ESPN when it comes to the Chiefs. Trust me, I deal with it every day here in Louisiana. The only thing people throw at me about them is a word-for-word analysis given by Jeff Saturday on Sports Center about whether or not the Chiefs are a pretender or contender. It goes something like, they haven’t played anyone or there offense cant score more than 28 points or what’s going to happen when their defense doesn’t show up?
Well I say this! What’s going to happen when Manning can’t hit underneath throws to Welker or Moreno? What’s going to happen when they have third-and-long and KC is sitting on their quick screens out to Demaryius Thomas? What’s going to happen if Manning is forced to throw a pass 15-25 yards deep, where four of his six interceptions have come from?
My answer to all of it is this, it’s the NFL. It’s too hard to predict and that’s why I always resort to the old cliche, it’s why they play the game. What I can predict is that it’s going to be a great game, perhaps the best we may see all season from any two teams. This game is truly an example of when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The best offense vs. the best defense.
Games like this is what the NFL is all about. With all these things said, it’s time to take a look at the numbers.
A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS:
Obviously we can sit here and gloat all about the Broncos offensive numbers. They’re ranked first in total yards per game (457.8) first in points scored (41.2) first in pass yards (353.4) and the list goes on. Peyton Manning is a machine, and their is no denying that he is playing his best football at the age of 37. He is on pace to throw for 59 touchdowns and well over 5,000 yards. Yeah that’s correct, 59 touchdowns. Just ridiculous.
Manning hasn’t done it alone though. Demaryius Thomas has picked up right where he left off last season with his team leading, 55 receptions for 793 and 9 touchdowns. Wes Welker isn’t far behind him with his 53 receptions for 576 yards and 9 touchdowns as well. Hell, even their tight end, Julius Thomas, is having a career year with his 9 touchdowns. The Bronco offense is a well oiled machine when it comes to moving ball through the air but, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their flaws.
Manning has started to struggle with the deep ball, passes 15 yards or more, as the weather is becoming less friendly. As I mentioned earlier, four out of the six interceptions he has thrown have come on throws that were 15 yards or more. I’m not sitting here trying to say that Manning can’t throw deep, that would be ridiculous. What I am saying is Manning has been sacked 8 times in the last 3 games and on top of that, he’s dealing with a high sprain in his right ankle.
Peyton lives and dies by his footwork in the pocket. He’s never been a very mobile player, but his ability to move and step up in the pocket has been almost perfect his entire career. Dealing with what seems to be a very painful sprain in his right leg, Manning is having a hard time planting that back foot and delivering strikes down the field with accuracy. It doesn’t help that he’s playing with an injury riddled offensive line that’s having a hard time giving him protection.
The cold weather comes into play with the nerve damage he’s been dealing with in his neck since his surgery. Manning struggled with his grip of the ball in the later part of their season last year. He played with a glove on his throwing hand all through the month of December and in their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. I’m mentioning this because of the weather forecast for Sunday nights game. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll fill you in. According to Weather.com, Denver’s Sunday forecast calls for a high of 41 degrees, with temperatures dropping significantly as the sun goes down. The expected low is 26 degrees which means it could be below freezing by halftime of the game. I like to think that favors the Chiefs.
Did I even mention their defense yet? Sorry about that, lets take a look. The Broncos are ranked 23rd in total defense, surrendering an average of 26 points per game. They’ve accounted for 26 sacks and 13 interceptions, but are -2 in the takeaway to giveaway ratio. At times, the Bronco’s defense has looked solid, but for the most part, has looked depleted. The loss of Elvis Dumervill was huge for Denver and it shows. They cant seem to stay healthy at corner with Champ Bailey‘s lingering foot issues.
They’ve mostly been protecting leads, so they haven’t been forced into many situations when they’ve had to win the team a game. The biggest one that comes to mind is Dallas, when they intercepted a late fourth quarter pass from Tony Romo that sealed the game. But lets not forget, they had already given up 6 touchdowns and over 600 yards of total offense to them.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH:
Obviously the nation is going to watch their offense vs. the Chiefs defense, but I’m more focused on the individual match-ups all across the field. There will be lots of games played within this one game. Like for instance Chiefs corner, Sean Smith vs. Broncos receiver, Demaryius Thomas. Smith is a very physical corner, big too, and the last real physical corner Thomas faced was DeAngelo Hall of the Washington Redskins. The Chiefs built their defense to beat that Bronco offense and that clearly shows.
John Dorsey went shopping for defensive backs this past off season and I’d say he did pretty well. Husain Abdullah, Quinten Demps, Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson, and Marcus Cooper have all contributed on defense for the Chiefs this year. Adding those players to the likes of Berry, Flowers and Lewis makes for one of the most talented and deep secondaries in the league. The Chiefs match-up better than anyone with this Broncos roster and it’s time to see if they can do it.
How about the Chiefs defense vs. the Broncos screen game. The most effective way to eliminate blitzes and pressure is with quick screens and draw plays. No one runs the smoke screen better than the Broncos, especially when teams are blitzing. We all know it’s coming, let’s see if someone can finally stop it.
Eric Berry has had one heck-of-a season so far, but he will have his hands full with Manning’s new safety valve tight end, Julius Thomas. When the Broncos are in the red zone, they’ve found very clever ways to get Thomas the ball. Whether it be seam routes, screens or shovel passes, Berry will have to be a hawk in this game just like he was week 3 against the Eagles.
Lastly, my X-factor for the game is Alex Smith. I’ve gone the whole post without mentioning his name but now is the time. Smith needs to shine for this team and that doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to throw for 500 yards and 7 TD’s. I mean he needs to play his game, but take it to another level.
When I went back and watched the Broncos Chargers game from last week, I noticed that Phillip Rivers had plenty of time to make accurate throws AND buy some time with his feet. If Rivers had any kind of athletic ability, he likely would have carved their defense up on the ground with his legs. Smith’s ability to run could be a huge difference for the Chiefs offense, even more so than it’s already been. If Smith can pick up some key first downs with his legs, that only helps to keep the Bronco offense off the field and frustrate the defense.
I believe the Broncos will sell out on stopping Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs run game, forcing Alex Smith to beat them with his arm. Smith is certainly capable. The Chiefs need him to be the kind of passer he was in his week one match-up against the Packers last season when he was still with San Francisco. Smith was 20/26 with 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was efficient and confident in his ability that afternoon. Smith needs to start bringing that same type of play down the stretch for the Chiefs. No better time to start than now.
The Chiefs are entering Denver as an 8 point underdog and we shouldn’t be surprised. No one believes in this Chiefs team outside of KC and that shows in the Vegas lines.
But I’m not so sure that Vegas took this into consideration, during the second half of the season in his career, Peyton Manning has struggled when he’s faced the number one scoring defense in the NFL. Manning’s career numbers vs. number one defense’s are; three games played with a record of 1-2, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He only averages 142.3 yards per game and only has a passer rating of 76.3. Just something to chew on as we move closer to Sunday.
The game starts at 7:30 PM, CDT on NBC.