WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
Can the Chiefs stop Elvis Dumervil? Therein lies the key when Matt Cassel drops back to pass, because not only has Kansas City struggled against Dumervil in the past, this year he leads the league in sacks, with 14. That's bad news for a Chiefs' offensive line that has surrendered 38 sacks already, and particularly bad news for Branden Albert, who is near the top of the league in sacks allowed.
Can Albert, who stands 6-foot-5, deal with Dumervil's low center of gravity at 5-foot-11? Despite his lack of size, Dumervil uses quickness and agility to his advantage, and the Broncos move him all over the field in their 3-4 scheme. However, it's not just one player the Chiefs will have to be worried about, because Mike Nolan's blitz schemes get everyone involved.
The Broncos have 10 players with at least one sack this season, including safeties and corners. They will test Kansas City's ability to pick up the blitz from all angles, and the Chiefs didn't do a great job of it last week against San Diego's 3-4. Because the Broncos have a pair of outstanding corners in Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, likely they won't be shy about bringing the heat against Cassel.
Denver has allowed the short completion this year but only 10 touchdown passes. This is a difficult matchup for the Chiefs, especially without Dwayne Bowe. They will have to get Jamaal Charles involved against the Broncos' linebackers.
WHEN THE BRONCOS PASS
After 11 games its clear Kyle Orton is no Jay Cutler, but that's both a good and bad thing for the Broncos. While Orton hasn't lit the world on fire, he has played smart, efficient football, and the dreadful quarterback who threw left-handed interceptions in preseason has all but disappeared.
Josh McDaniels has helped Orton in much the same way he helped Matt Cassel last season in New England. The Broncos' passing game is mostly about short, high-percentage throws that take advantage of Brandon Marshall's ability to run after the catch. Denver does not push the ball down the field nearly as much as Orton's 7.1 yards per attempt might indicate.
The real matchup nightmare for the Chiefs isn't Marshall or Orton, however – it's Denver's offensive line, which is probably even better than the meager 20 sacks it has allowed this season. Ryan Clady, the Broncos' left tackle, is athletic enough to completely shut down Tamba Hali, and KC's other pass rushers fall far short of presenting a threat against a team that excels at pass blocking like the Broncos.
Denver's line is also adept at setting up and executing the screen pass, which has plagued the Chiefs some this year. The Broncos get their running backs – Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter – involved in the passing game frequently, so that's something to watch for if Kansas City gets too blitz happy.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
Is Jamaal Charles for real? With almost 100 yards rushing in two of his last three games, Charles is on the cusp of solidifying his status as a starting NFL running back. If he can run on the Broncos, who have permitted only two 100-yard rushing games this season, he can stand proud.
The Broncos have succeeded stopping the run despite their lack of a marquee 3-4 nose tackle. Their front three – Ronald Fields, Ryan McBean, Kenny Peterson – are lunchpail players but have the size to hold up in the scheme. The real playmakers in Denver's run defense are a pair of talented, accomplished middle linebackers – DJ Williams and Andra Davis. Both are athletic players with sideline to sideline speed and Williams in particular has responded to the new scheme after some previous struggles.
The Chiefs are short-handed at running back with injuries to Kolby Smith and Dantrell Savage. If Charles needs a breather, Kansas City may hand the ball to rookie Javarris Williams. The Broncos may be without their leading tackler, Brian Dawkins, who has a bad ankle.
WHEN THE BRONCOS RUN
Rookie Knowshon Moreno has produced for Denver, with 688 yards and 4.3 yards per carry, but it's clear he's not an enormous big-play threat. Moreno's longest run this year is only 36 yards and he has just two carries over 20 yards. He does not have breakaway speed, but is quick enough to make a defender miss in the open field. Moreno has fumbled four times in just 161 carries this season, so don't be surprised if the Chiefs focus on ripping the ball away.
Denver's running scheme is incredibly balanced, as they hand the ball off out of shotgun quite a bit, and use their athletic offensive line well on outside runs. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs, without their on-the-field coach in Mike Vrabel, can handle the variety and creativity the Broncos employ within their running scheme.
The player who might make the most noise against Kansas City is Moreno's backup, Buckhalter. By far, he has been Denver's most explosive runner this year and he'll be something of a matchup problem in the open field against KC's safeties, Jon McGraw and Mike Brown. Though Buckhalter's production has dropped off recently, early in the year he was a big contributor in Denver's offense. The Chiefs can't afford to sleep on him.
The Broncos have found an efficient, strong-legged placekicker to replace Jason Elam, but have had problems at punter this season. They signed veteran Mitch Berger to replace the ineffective Bret Kern in midseason. Though the Broncos have an explosive kick returner in Eddie Royal, the Chiefs may be able to gain an advantage in field position on kickoff returns, as Denver hasn't covered them well this season
Both sides have something to prove this Sunday, as there's plenty of familiarity between Josh McDaniels, Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel. Will the Chiefs have an advantage with Cassel's extensive knowledge of McDaniels' offense? The Broncos visit Kansas City well-rested after playing on Thanksgiving Day in their last outing.
The Broncos simply aren't explosive enough on offense to run away with this one, but the Chiefs haven't faced a defense as consistent or sound as the one they play tomorrow. Denver's offensive line will prove to be too large of an advantage, especially late in the game.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 17
The Matchups - Chiefs vs Broncos
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