Standing in the Chiefs' way, are the 9-2 Denver Broncos, led by a paralyzing defense that excels at taking away what opposing offenses love to do. This Broncos team is the best in the league at stopping the run, and can force a team to become one dimensional quickly.
It's easy to pinpoint the reasons why this defense is so sound against the run. Their success lies with the front seven.
Defensive linemen Courtney Brown, Michael Myers, Gerard Warren and Trevor Pryce manhandle offensive linemen while linebackers Ian Gold, Al Wilson and D.J. Williams are free to chase the football and make plays. Brown, Pryce, Warren, Wilson and Williams along with reserve defensive lineman Ebenezer Ekuban were all first round draft choices. That's a total of six number one picks available for the Broncos' to throw at opposing teams.
In the offseason, Broncos Grand Puba Mike Shanahan acquired a group of defense linemen who had failed to live up to their incredible potential, including three guys the hapless Cleveland Browns had given up on. Under the tutelage of Shanahan, defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and defensive assistants Jacob Burney and Andre Patterson, the new linemen joined with perennial Chiefs terror Trevor Pryce to form one of the best defensive lines in football.
Gold, Wilson and Williams as a group, are the best pursuit linebackers in the league. With the protection of their defensive line up front, they're free to run around and attack the ball carrier. The Broncos' defensive line works exceptionally well with their fast linebackers to making it tough for opposing teams to have success running the football.
"Obviously, they're number one stopping the rush," Chiefs quarterback Trent Green said. "Their linebackers have such great speed, the four down linemen, they can create problems and they use up your offensive linemen. When you talk about their speed at linebacker, the reason their able to use that speed at linebacker, the front four uses up the bodies of the offensive linemen. It doesn't allow the linemen, to get to the second level."
In the first game against the Broncos, the Chiefs were stymied running the football. The Broncos held the Chiefs to only 74 yards rushing, taking away the run early and forcing the Chiefs to resort to throwing the football.
"The thing we weren't able to do in the first game," Green said, "is to get up to that second level, and neutralize that speed with our size on the offensive line. Because of how well their down four is playing, that frees up the linebackers and allows them to make the plays that they do."
The Broncos use their talented defensive linemen creatively, moving them around to find the best matchups. With their depth, the Broncos can keep rotating players in and out, allowing them to wear down opposing offensive lines. By protecting their linebackers, they don't allow an offense to get after them and slow them down.
"They do a lot of stunts, a lot of twists, hitting their gaps, that's probably what they're most effective at," said Chiefs tight end Jason Dunn. "They try to beat you laterally, not straight up the field, so everything they do, you try to keep in front of you. They protect the linebackers, and with that, it gives the linebackers free reign to cover all bases, inside and outside."
The Broncos scheme in the front seven makes them very effective against the run, but they are vulnerable to the pass. Currently, the Broncos are ranked 28th against the pass, and have gathered just 18 sacks, so the Chiefs should be able to have success there. If the Chiefs are effective passing the football early, that should open up running lanes for Larry Johnson, with draws and delays.
That first game in Denver, the Chiefs were depleted, playing without All-Universe offensive left tackle Willie Roaf, and starting right tackle John Welbourn. Both have returned, and will give the Chiefs the ability to try to dictate more on offense. The play of the offensive line, tight ends and full backs will determine how successful the Chiefs can be Sunday.
Denver Front Seven Doing the Job
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