Tonight, the Denver Broncos have the opportunity to make history. With a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, they would extend their record of 12 consecutive road victories to 13, which would push them ahead of the San Francisco 49ers for the all-time NFL record.
It'll be a hard-fought game, with far-reaching implications. Let's get to the three keys to victory.
Run the Ball With Authority
In their Week 1 victory, the Broncos rushed for just 69 yards on 25 attempts, after all the talk of moving toward Gary Kubiak's run-heavy zone blocking scheme. For crying out loud, Peyton Manning threw the ball 40 times.
They eeked out a win, thanks to a dominant defensive performance, but it certainly didn't fit the model Kubiak and company had in mind for the 2015 Broncos. On the road, in a tough divisional matchup, the Broncos have to commit to running the ball.
And they have to execute it with authority. C.J. Anderson is questionable. He'll likely start. But his tweaked ankle and toe could limit his impact. That means the Broncos may have to turn to the guy who's so far been the most productive running back—Ronnie Hillman.
To win tonight on the road, the Broncos must not only execute in the running game, they have to commit to it. They have to communicate to the Chiefs front seven that they're going to be here all night, grinding it out.
If they can do that and average a good 4 yards per carry, it'll open up the passing game for Manning and company.
Make the Most of Their Opportunities Downfield
Manning's 24-of-40, 175-yard box score would have looked very different had he connected on just two of the 16 passes that fell incomplete. He overthrew an open Emmanuel Sanders twice in the endzone, which would have changed the scope of the game in Week 1.
Tonight, on the road, Manning and his receivers have to be crisp and on time. Demaryius Thomas needs to show up and make some big plays downfield. If they can suck the defense into the box with the running game, it should open up plenty of opportunities for vertical plays.
The relationship between the passing game and the running game is symbiotic. And the common denominator is the offensive line. As a unit, they played poorly on Sunday. They've vowed to improve. Against a very good Chiefs front seven, they'll face yet another stiff challenge.
How the Broncos O-line performs will trickle down to both phases of the offense.
Take Away The Running Game
The Chiefs offense revolves around Jamaal Charles. Last week, he failed to crack the 60-yard rushing mark. He's hoping to get back on track this week. As the Chiefs No. 1 option, the Broncos have to shut him down and take away quarterback Alex Smith's security blanket and force him to make plays with his arm.
The Chiefs will certainly try and beat the Broncos outside pass rush at their own game by running draws and screens to Charles. The Broncos inside linebackers have to be ready for that. Because it will come.
Priority No. 2 has to be limiting tight end Travis Kelce, who had a Gronk-worthy game last week. I'm not sure lining T.J. Ward up on him is the best approach, as former defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was wont to do.
Perhaps a speedy linebacker like Brandon Marshall, who considers himself to be the best coverage 'backer in the NFL, would be the best option to limit Kelce. Or, Wade Phillips could take a page out of the Bill Belichick playbook and stick Aqib Talib, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, on him.
However they approach Kelce, the key is blanketing him. Force Smith to make plays outside the numbers and downfield, something totally out of his comfort zone, and they'll succeed in winning this game.
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