WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
After struggling for much of the game against the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard will get somewhat of a break this week. The Broncos field an elite cornerback tandem in Dre Bly and Champ Bailey, but have still allowed opposing passers to rack up a 105.4 quarterback rating, the worst mark in the league. Denver has also allowed a whopping 15 touchdown passes and has just six interceptions.
In previous Chiefs-Broncos matchups, Denver could always count on "big nickel" back Sam Brandon to cover Tony Gonzalez. With Brandon no longer on Denver's roster, however, the Broncos find themselves in a quandary. Do they put Champ Bailey on Gonzalez, leaving Dwayne Bowe and Eddie Kennison (who returns to the starting lineup this weekend) to roam free? Or do they let Gonzalez have his way against Nick Ferguson and John Lynch, Denver's safeties, neither of whom are adept in coverage?
The Broncos also lack a linebacker who can stay with Gonzalez, as weakside linebacker Ian Gold has noticeably declined this year.
From a pass-rush standpoint, it's truly a one-man game for the Broncos, which presents even more problems for their defense. They only have one consistent defensive end, second-year man Elvis Dumervil, who continues to get to the quarterback and has seven sacks this year already. With the release of Simeon Rice this week, the Broncos are stuck with John Engleberger and rookie Tim Crowder as their best second and third options at defensive end. As bad as KC's offensive line has looked this year, they should be able to halt Denver's pass rush with no problem. Look for an efficient day from Huard at the worst.
WHEN THE BRONCOS PASS
Be assured that Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler is the real deal. He stands tall in the pocket, has an absolute cannon for an arm and has shown an ability to make tough throws under pressure this year. But also be assured that at the moment, his weapons are not all there. He's also turnover prone at this point in his career - he's thrown eight interceptions in eight games, and will give the Chiefs a chance to pick the ball off.
With Javon Walker's knee problems, Denver's top wide receiver at the moment is second-year man Brandon Marshall, who is a good player, but not a No. 1. wide receiver. Brandon Stokely is in over his head starting on the opposite side. The Broncos also lack a real threat at tight end, as Tony Scheffler has been slowed coming back from injury, and Daniel Graham, despite his prowess as a blocker, has only 16 catches and no touchdowns.
Making matters worse for Cutler is Denver's offensive line, which has been bit hard by the injury bug this year. Center Tom Nalen and left guard Ben Hamilton are both out for the year, forcing young players (Chris Kuper and Chris Myers) into the lineup. Even veteran Matt Lepsis is struggling at left tackle after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee in the offseason. This unit was particularly bad in Detroit last week, as defensive tackle Shaun Rogers absolutely dominated Denver's interior line and the Lions racked up five sacks.
With Walker out again, the Broncos will shelve their deep passing game as they've done in recent weeks. It's anyone's guess how mobile Cutler will be after suffering a deep leg bruise last week, but don't be surprised to see a bootleg or two. The Chiefs were burned on the boot against the Packers last week and can't afford a repeat performance. Despite that, the Chiefs should be able to get massive pressure on Cutler. Look out for Marshall after the catch, however. Kansas City's secondary will need to wrap him up.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
As bad as the Chiefs have been running the football this season, the Broncos are arguably worse in stopping it. Denver ranks 32nd overall against the run and 31st in yards per carry. Everyone runs on the Broncos – even the Packers, who were ranked 32nd in rushing offense before piling up over 100 yards on Denver two weeks ago. Even Detroit, who gashed the Broncos for 130 yards last week.
The biggest problem for Denver against the run is obviously their defensive tackles. Headlining the group is veteran Sam Adams, who despite his size, is having an awful year. He's not anything close to the presence he once was. Inexplicably, the Broncos actually cut the other starter this week (Amon Gordon), who is replaced by veteran Alvin McKinley. After that it gets worse, as the Broncos haven't gotten production from rookie Marcus Thomas and second-year man Antwon Burton.
Then there's middle linebacker D.J. Williams, who leads the team in tackles but hasn't made a successful transition to the middle (he played strongside last year). He's frequently out of position and is still struggling to adapt to the mental side of his new position. As we noted earlier, weakside linebacker Ian Gold has declined and has missed a ton of tackles this year.
The Chiefs won't have Larry Johnson, but it shouldn't matter. They finally play a team they can run on this week. Expect Priest Holmes and Kolby Smith to find success from the first snap.
WHEN THE BRONCOS RUN
You're probably used to seeing the Broncos rack up big numbers on the ground under Mike Shanahan, but for the first time in a while, Denver doesn't rank in the Top 10 in rushing. The Broncos stand at 13th this season and have only three rushing touchdowns. They started out hot, but a Broncos back hasn't broken 80 yards in weeks.
Part of the problem is Travis Henry, who led the NFL in rushing early on but has dropped off since due to a laundry list of injuries. Backing up Henry is Selvin Young, an undrafted free agent who is much smaller, but has plenty of speed and quickness. Look for the Broncos to split carries between Henry, who didn't practice much this week, and Young.
This is the same old story scheme-wise, however. The Broncos still run the same zone-blocking scheme as they always have. The good news is the Chiefs know how to shut it down, as they did a year ago at Arrowhead, holding Denver to 38 yards rushing. Inexperience on the line won't help the Broncos, either.
Jason Elam has kicked a game-winning field goal in every victory for the Broncos this season. The Chiefs have the edge in punters here, as veteran Todd Sauerbrun is out-kicking his coverage consistently this year. The Broncos replaced kick returner Domenik Hixon a few weeks ago, and got good production out of rookie Andre Hall last week in Detroit.
The Broncos are a team in disarray, as they cut several players this week and are dealing with numerous internal issues, such as Jay Cutler's injury and Travis Henry's drug-related problems. Denver's trip to Kansas City is also the first two-game road trip for the team this season, never an easy proposition, especially when you've allowed 38 points or more in two of three road games already. Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards is 2-2 lifetime against Denver's Mike Shanahan.
The Broncos are spiraling out of control after a 2-0 start. They simply don't have the weapons on offense to come into Kansas City and win, especially with the 29th-ranked scoring defense backing them up.
Chiefs 20, Broncos 9
Film Review: Chiefs vs Broncos
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