Keeping the Ball Away from Denver

For the first time since the 2003 season, the Chiefs control their own playoff destiny down the stretch. But with the Broncos on tap Sunday and the Chargers a week later, what does K.C. need to do to make every Chiefs fans' Christmas wish list come true?

The Chiefs will get a perfectly timed shot of adrenaline on Sunday when WR/RB/KR/all around playmaker Dexter McCluster returns to the lineup after a full month on the injury report. The Chiefs offense has actually prospered since we last saw DMC, but his injection into the game plan should only help continue this offense's surprising ascension to the top of the NFL's offensive ranks.

But will he play? Head Coach Todd Haley quipped to the media Friday that wasn't a certainty. Was he being serious or giving folks in Denver something else to ponder. We'll find out about an hour before kick-off.

Assuming he does play. What impact will he have on the offense? I see the Chiefs using him sparingly this week to ease him back into the role he had before the hiatus. I'd expect to see McCluster on some kick returns and in one or two wildcat formations. But there isn't any doubt he will be a heavy part of the game plan the following weekend when the Chiefs head out to the Bay Area to take on the Lightning Bolts.

Regardless of McCluster's impact, the focus on Sunday will be centered on Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe.

Both players tell similar stories when addressing their progression from 2009 to 2010. Cassel and Bowe came into the offseason with a lot of baggage from the previous season coupled with some lofty expectations.

Cassel was about as solid as the Chiefs first young franchise QB, Todd Blackledge. Has anyone ever thanked John Mackovich for selecting him over Dan Marino?

After a shaky ‘09 season when he finished with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, it appeared Cassel was headed to the broadcast booth. Bowe, on the other hand, was a notorious underachiever.

But on the bright side, both players' failures brought them together and not many can argue there the best pitch and catch duo in the NFL. In fact, should they continue this connection, they could be playing in Hawaii in February. And that has happened in Kansas City since Bill Kenney and Carlos Carson did it back in 1983.

For that to happen both players have to continue their stellar pace. After all they're facing the NFL's 27th ranked defense. They should have another field day offensively. But despite their recent achievements, consistency is what separates good from great. On Sunday, we'll find out which category these two fall under.

The injuries on the defensive side of the ball continue to pose problems as the Chiefs top cornerback Brandon Flowers' chance of playing on Sunday are less likely by the minute. The good news is that backups Travis Daniels and Javier Arenas played great last week in Seattle. The bad news is that the Chiefs secondary was getting torched by the Broncos scout team all week in practice.

On Sunday, the Chiefs secondary could needs the veteran expertise of Safety Jon McGraw.
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Jon McGraw and Kendrick Lewis should be in the lineup this week, but both continue to progress very slowly from injuries. And with the NFL's leading yardage receiver in town it could be a long afternoon for Kansas City. Local product Brandon Lloyd is coming to town. That means this game could become a shootout. If the secondary is not much improved from the one we saw in the Denver, it could even be a repeat of their week ten matchup.

On Sunday, getting any sort of pass rush will be imperative for the Chiefs. Although over the last several weeks the Chiefs have shown the ability to score quickly, they must control the time of possession and limit the Broncos touches on offense.

If not, than at a minimum they must force Denver to be one-dimensional offense. Denver is ranked 30th in the NFL in regards to running the ball. And in fact, they've only had one solid game doing it that was against the Chiefs. That means when Kyle Orton is standing in the pocket, the Chiefs need to hit him as many times as they can.

The Chiefs' defensive line has held their own through 11 weeks, but has continually struggled to get pressure on the QB. And as much as Haley and Crennel hate to do it, they are going to have to take some chances early and often with some blitz packages if they want to get Orton off his game.

Sure, bringing an extra corner, linebacker, or safety will leave the Chiefs vulnerable in one-on-one coverage, which will likely surrender some big gains. But keeping Orton out of rhythm for 60 minutes might prove worth the risk.

The Chiefs have a very tough game looming a week from Sunday at San Diego. And with just a one game lead in the West, a win against an imploding Denver team is imperative. The Chiefs simply can't afford to lay an egg this week if they have any aspirations for a playoff spot come January.

Thankfully ‘Spy Gate 2.0' has injected some added fuel to this AFC West showdown. But if the Chiefs exact some revenge for the spanking they took in Mile High a few weeks ago, it could spell the end for Denver head coach, Josh McDaniels.

Considering the finger-wagging incident during their post game handshake a few weeks back in Denver, I bet Todd Haley would be more than happy to send the Broncos coach back to the unemployment line.

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