Seldom will the Kansas City Chiefs face an offense as potent as the Denver Broncos. The secondary especially, will need to be on their game. The Chiefs have a Pro Bowl player who will need to step up his game on Sunday. Eric Berry has had problems covering athletic, pass catching tight ends in the past, and he will have his hands full in Denver.
The Broncos will send three excellent receivers out into routes. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker would put stress on the best of secondaries just by themselves. Throw in tight end Julius Thomas and running back Knowshon Moreno, and it becomes a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
Demaryius Thomas, Decker, and Welker all have at least 49 receptions. These three have been targeted 243 times in 9 games. That means Denver quarterback has thrown the in the direction of these receivers an average of 27 times a game.
These three have also scored 21 total touchdowns. That is the same number the Chiefs team has scored, including the 5 special teams and defensive touchdowns. Needless to say, there will be a lot of pressure on Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, and rookie Marcus Cooper, who will be facing Manning for the first time.
Tight end Julius Thomas has emerged as a big weapon for Manning and the Broncos this season. He is almost like having a fourth star receiver. He has 42 receptions and has been targeted 57 times. That means Manning will throw his direction more than 6 times a game on average.
For kicks, throw in the fact Thomas 9 touchdowns himself, averages 2 more yards a catch than Wes Welker (13.0), and has the second longest reception (74 yards) of the year for the Broncos. And he is the team’s fourth option!
As if that wasn’t enough, running back Knowshon Moreno has been targeted 44 times and has 37 catches. That is five players the Chiefs defense will have to account for on every single play. Teams can’t double team the Broncos’ receivers; there just aren’t enough defensive spots to go around.
It is going to fall on Eric Berry to close down the middle of the field, where the tight end likes to roam. Most likely, the 6’0″, 211 pound Berry will be asked to cover the 6’5″, 250 pound Julius Thomas. This would be a tough task on anyone, but it is doubtful the Chiefs will be able to spare a corner back to cover Thomas.
If there is a weakness in Berry’s game, it might be that he has struggled at times in his career against the big, athletic tight ends. Hey, they are tough to guard for a reason. The best tight ends are mismatches for most defenses. Berry seems to have improved in this area this season but Sunday will be the biggest test thus far.
Berry is having another fine season. He is third on the team with 40 tackles. He has 5 passes defended, 1.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, and a touchdown. He probably won’t be brought in to blitz much in this game but he should get plenty of opportunities to break up passes, and it will be imperative for him to wrap up and take down the ball carriers, whomever they maybe.
The Chiefs secondary will not only have to cover one-on-one all day but they will have to tackle. They must eliminate the yards after catch. Berry will have to work hard to bring down the bigger Thomas.
While the Chiefs defensive line and pass rushing line backers will have to put pressure on Peyton Manning without the help of a lot of corner or safety blitzes (Manning will pick the defense apart if the blitz doesn’t get to him very quickly), the secondary must cover those receivers like blankets. No quarterback is more surgical than Manning and he will take advantage of every mistake, and highlight every mismatch.
Everyone likes to talk about the fact the Chiefs have not faced a quarterback like Manning, or an offense like Denver’s. That is true. It is also true that Denver has not faced a defense as well rounded as the Chiefs’. If Kansas City can applied quick, hard pressure on Manning, and the secondary can hold their coverage, the Chiefs can win this game.
Eric Berry taking away a big target and safety valve in the middle of the field would go a long way toward a Kansas City win. Berry will have his biggest assignment of the season Sunday and that is why he is in the spotlight this week.