BRONCOS

Denver’s roster illustrates focus on slowing down Mahomes, Chiefs

Sep 2, 2021, 6:17 AM
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 25: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs scans the field before passi...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos haven’t beaten the Kansas City Chiefs since 2015; a frustrating streak of 11 games that shows no signs of letting up this season. The rivalry has gotten even more one-sided since superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes made his NFL debut in the Mile High City at the end of the 2017 campaign — Mahomes has started 46 regular-season games and eight playoff games since, winning one Super Bowl title, a pair of AFC championships, and four consecutive AFC West division crowns.

The Broncos have yet to beat Mahomes’s Chiefs. Not even once.

It hasn’t been particularly close, either. In the seven-game stretch since Mahomes took hold of the reins in Kansas City, the Chiefs have outscored the Broncos 202-111; a 91-point differential that represents an average deficit of nearly two touchdowns per game. Worse yet, the Broncos have given up an average of 28.9 points per game to Kansas City, while allowing Mahomes 300-plus passing yards in four of them and a quarterback rating of 102.4 overall.

For the Broncos and first-year general manager George Paton, the 6-foot-3 Mahomes looms as a titanic obstacle that Denver must eventually overcome to contend in their own division. Paton got to work in free agency in the spring, adding veteran free-agent corners Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller to go along with safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson; returnees also armed with lucrative new contracts. Head coach Vic Fangio didn’t want to be caught scrambling for bodies in the wake of a spate of injuries that helped to doom the Broncos last year against Mahomes — and virtually every other team they faced.

“He went through the same thing we went through last year at Minnesota,” Fangio said on Tuesday about his new GM. “We both have our scars from that.”

Paton wasn’t finished, however, drafting Pat Surtain II with the ninth overall selection in the 2021 draft, and even though the talented Surtain sits fourth on the depth chart behind Fuller, Darby and and skilled-but-fragile slot corner Bryce Callahan, the Broncos will be creative in finding ways to get him on the field.

“I think it’s great. We’re fortunate we have a player in Surtain that can play multiple positions at a young age,” Paton explained during training camp.

The Broncos have practiced with Surtain on the outside, in the slot, and even at dime linebacker in an effort to find him more snaps.

“Not many rookies can play three positions. It’s a really good problem to have. It’s Vic’s problem, but you can’t have enough of those guys. Corners, a lot of them go down, so we’re really happy with our depth.”

Paton isn’t wrong; the Broncos already have three cornerbacks — Michael Ojemudia, Essang Bassey, and Duke Dawson Jr. — on injured reserve, and the season still won’t start for another week and a half.

As for Fangio, he now oversees a roster that has a whopping 11 active players in its secondary; eight of which are new to the Broncos this season.

“I feel much, much better,” Fangio explained on Tuesday after the roster was trimmed down to 53 players.

For a Broncos team whose concerns still revolve around an offense that hasn’t gained traction since Peyton Manning retired five years ago, it may seem odd to continue stocking the secondary at that pace. But on Tuesday, Paton insisted that it’s necessary.

“Yeah, you just look at the division we play in — Kansas City, Vegas, and the Chargers. You need corners, you need safeties. It’s a pressure-and-cover league, and I just don’t think you can have enough. There was a thought process into that. I think with Vic’s defense, getting those guys that can cover, we’re only going to be that much better.”

Of course, what constitutes “much better” exists within the eye of the beholder. The Broncos have averaged only a meager 15.9 points per game against the Chiefs since Mahomes took over; no number of corners or safeties is likely to hold Kansas City — the NFL’s leader in both yards per game (415.8) and passing yards per game (303.4) last season — to only half their average scoring output per game last season (29.6). Unless Denver’s offense vastly improves, the losing streak will reach an unlucky 13 games this season, no matter how many cover corners they can manage to cram onto the field.

There are no style points in football. But for Paton and Fangio? Well, you’ve got to start somewhere.

***

Shawn Drotar is the on-air host of “Sandy & Shawn;” weeknights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight on 104.3 The Fan.

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