Each of the last two years at Arrowhead Stadium, Chiefs return specialist Dante Hall has had a long return for a touchdown against the Broncos. That prompted Denver to overhaul its special teams in the off-season. The Broncos traded for punter Todd Sauerbrun, re-signed linebacker Keith Burns and drafted some players that have helped in the kicking game.
This year, the Broncos go to Arrowhead Stadium more confident that Hall won't beat them by himself.
"We respect everything Dante is bringing to the table, and he's going to have to respect everything we bring, too," Sauerbrun said.
Denver's last two games at Kansas City turned on a Hall return. Two years ago he had a 93-yard punt return in the fourth quarter for a touchdown that was the difference in a Chiefs win. Last year he took the opening kickoff 97 yards and scored, setting the tone for a blowout win by Kansas City.
The biggest breakdown on both of those plays was the kicker. On Hall's punt return in 2003, punter Micah Knorr didn't get the ball to the end zone as the Broncos wanted. Hall took advantage of the opportunity to return it, even from his own 7-yard line.
Last year, Jason Baker's opening kickoff was a line drive, and Denver's coverage team had little chance. Hall went untouched for a score. Sauerbrun has been an upgrade for the Broncos at punter and on kickoffs. He credited the players covering his kicks for Denver's improvement on special teams.
"It's the best I've been around since I've been in the league," Sauerbrun said. "Our coverage units, I have all the faith in the world in them. We're not worried about anybody, because if everybody goes out and plays as good as they can, we're going to be successful."
The Broncos bottled up Hall in the first meeting between the teams this season at Invesco Field at Mile High. Hall had one punt return for 10 yards and averaged 25 yards on five kickoff returns. Considering what Hall has done against them in the past, the Broncos were pleased.
"That set a big tempo for us and it gave us a lot of confidence as a unit, to say, 'Hey, we are good,'" Sauerbrun said.
Because Hall has had some huge plays against Denver in his career, the Broncos usually have a bit of extra motivation to slow him down whenever they play the Chiefs.
"We're going to have a great time covering those kicks," said linebacker Louis Green, one of Denver's best special-teams players. "It's a regular game and every week you prepare yourself the same way, but I'm not going to sit here and say we're not thinking about him back there. He's a great returner."
SERIES HISTORY: 91st meeting. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the series against the Denver Broncos 50-40. The Broncos won the only playoff game between the teams, in 1997. Denver went on to win its first Super Bowl title that year. Denver also won the first meeting between the two teams this year, in September at Denver.
NOTES, QUOTES --Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey wore a microphone for ABC during Denver's first meeting with Kansas City this season. He insinuated during the game to his teammates that Kansas City wasn't playing hard, which upset Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil. Vermeil ripped Bailey the next day.
Bailey said he didn't know if the Chiefs would revisit those comments this week.
"He might use it as motivation," Bailey said. "I don't know. I don't care. They're going to be motivated anyway."
--Broncos running back Tatum Bell said he'll be ready to play this week at Kansas City. He has a bruised chest that kept him out of last week's game at Dallas.
But after Ron Dayne had a breakout game against the Cowboys, Bell didn't know what his role will be going forward.
"If Ron will be No. 2, I'll just have to play on special teams or vice versa," Bell said. "However it pans out, I'll look forward to helping the team."
--The Broncos, who are two games ahead of Kansas City in the AFC West standings, realize that the Chiefs will have a lot of urgency to win Sunday's game.
"They know, with the state of what they are now with their record being the way it is, that they need to win this game," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "We know this has playoff implications, whether anybody wants to say it or not, for both teams. Because this can position both teams. They're going to go out and come out with all types of gimmicks, because they're going to give us their best shot."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 of 17 - The Broncos have won only one of 17 games at Arrowhead Stadium in December. The only win was in 1994. Kansas City hasn't lost a home December game against any team since 1996.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this goes with the territory. We've been here before. We understand you're one loss away from being out of the light, so you just kind of take it week by week." - Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on the national media attention his team is getting.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos likely won't add another offensive lineman to the roster this week, meaning they'll go into Sunday's game with seven linemen if injured tackle Cornell Green can't play. Green has a separated shoulder and is listed as doubtful on the injury report.
Green has been rotating with right tackle George Foster, but more importantly, he's one of the Broncos' few backup linemen. Denver has very little depth on the line, and none of their backups besides Green play tackle.
If Green can't play and Foster or left tackle Matt Lepsis went down against Kansas City, starting guard Cooper Carlisle would probably move over to tackle and rookie Chris Myers or Taylor Whitley would step in at guard.
--CB Champ Bailey was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November. It's the first time since Deltha O'Neal in 2001 that a Broncos player has won that award. Bailey had an interception in all three of Denver's games in November.
--C/G Chris Myers hasn't played on offense yet, but he might be Denver's primary backup on the offensive line if Cornell Green can't play. Myers is versatile and he is athletic, fitting Denver's zone-blocking scheme well.
--TE Wesley Duke, a rookie, has been active for each of Denver's past two games. Duke hadn't played football since high school so he had a lot to learn, but he has great athletic skills and could have a bright future.
--S Sam Brandon could get some playing time this week. He plays in Denver's big nickel package when the team wants to nullify the opponent's tight end. When Denver played Kansas City earlier this year, Brandon played well against Tony Gonzalez.
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