Three keys to the Broncos beating the Chiefs on “Sunday Night Football”
The Denver Broncos beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12, setting up a prime-time showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football in Week 13. The top spot in the AFC West is on the line, and the Broncos are traveling to play a team they haven’t beat since Peyton Manning was their quarterback.
The Chiefs feature a superstar quarterback, a superstar wide receiver and a superstar tight end on offense. Their defense was a joke earlier this season, but one simple move – of a superstar defender – has had them doing a 180 degree turn on that side of the ball. Clearly, this is going to be a tough game for the Broncos to win.
As per usual on Mondays and Tuesdays during the regular season, I have broken down the coach’s film of the Broncos upcoming opponent. Here are three observations from the Chiefs film that could be the keys for a Broncos victory on Sunday night.
Don’t Abandon the Run
The Broncos would be wise to run the ball as much as possible against the Chiefs. They need to do this for at least a couple of very important reasons.
First, the Broncos are good at running the ball. Their offensive line, injuries and all, are better at run-blocking than they are pass-blocking. They feature not one but two really good running backs in veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams.
Second, running the ball will eat up the time of possession and keep the Chiefs offense cold on the sidelines. You saw this formula work last week against the Chargers when quarterback Justin Herbert barely had time to get anything going on offense early. The Broncos could conceivably do the same thing against Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night – if they stick with the run.
Get Javonte Williams the football and good things happen pic.twitter.com/IcicgQjmEF
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) November 28, 2021
If the Broncos hang around the Chiefs, let’s say within 10 points, they should be able to keep running the ball. The Chiefs defense is playing much better than it did earlier in the year. The main reason was the move inside of defensive lineman Chris Jones. He’s a disruptive force who can stuff the run and get interior pressure on the quarterback during passing plays. Handing Jones inside is going to be the key for the Broncos to run inside effectively.
The main concern here isn’t the ability of the Broncos to run the ball, it’s the wherewithal offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will have for sticking with the run. At the slightest sign the ground game is not working, Shurmur usually abandons ship. In order for the Broncos to put themselves in the best position to win, Shurmur must stick with the run as much as possible.
Pick Your Poison
Vic Fangio has a great mind for defensive football. However, no matter what kind of plan he puts together for the Chiefs their offense is going to get theirs. The Broncos need to be prepared for someone, or multiple players, to produce at a high level.
In short, the Broncos need to pick their poison. So, how does a team go about doing that? Well, it’s simple really – pick a player to take away from the Chiefs offense.
In the games where an opponent has the most success, it’s wide receiver Tyreek Hill that is limited due to an opponent’s game plan. In their four losses so far in the 2021 season, Hill was never the leading receiver. Hill had three catches for 14 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, five catches for 56 yards against the Chargers, seven catches for 63 yards against the Buffalo Bills, and six catches for 49 yards against the Tennessee Titans. Notice how Hill did not catch any touchdowns in any of the four losses this season. Advanced data and film study show that if you limit Hill, you give yourself the best chance to win against the Chiefs.
That means tight end Travis Kelce is likely to go off. Kelce is arguably the best tight end in the game, and he’s incredibly difficult to match up against because of his size/speed combination. As weird as it may seem, the Broncos should be okay if Kelce has a big game but Hill does not.
TRAVIS KELCE WOULD NOT GO DOWN 💪
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 20, 2021
If Kelce has a big game against the Broncos, and Hill is limited to a handful of catches and no touchdowns, it could help the Broncos hang around with this high-powered offense. The Broncos could also choose to be softer against the run in order to put more players in the defensive backfield to cover the passing game.
Take Some Deep Shots
The Broncos have not unleashed their passing attack in some time. Last week against the Chargers, Denver’s top three receivers (Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy) combined to catch six passes for 68 yards. That is not going to work against the Chiefs.
They must find a way to get these three receivers more involved. If the Broncos stay close to the Chiefs, their passing game is going to post modest numbers. If the Broncos fall behind to the Chiefs, then they’re going to have to unleash the passing attack.
Sutton and Patrick have size/speed combinations and can be big presences in the red zone. Jeudy is a fine route runner who can find the open space in zone coverage – and eat up any defender in man-to-man coverage. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is smart and efficient with the football, but he’s not the “checkdown Teddy” that some paint him to be. If the play is there, Bridgewater will load up for a deep shot here and there.
Sutton has come back from his injury to pace the Broncos in receptions (43) and receiving yards (617) this season.
— NFL (@NFL) November 23, 2021
I feel Denver needs to run the ball, but they need to have balance. Part of that is going to come from the deep passing attack. In fact, running the ball will set up play-action passing and lead to a few deep shots that could flip the field for the Broncos.
If a deep pass connects, that could lead to a score – either a touchdown or a field goal. However, a deep pass might also draw a penalty from the Chiefs defense. So far this season, the Chiefs have been penalized the fourth-most of all defenses in the NFL. These are pass interference penalties but also penalties as they try to get a head start on rushing the quarterback.
The Chiefs blitz the sixth most in the NFL at a rate of 30.6 percent of an opponent’s dropbacks. They get pressure on 27.3 percent of dropbacks, a rate that also ranks no.6 in the NFL. Their hurry percentage, No. 4 at 13.6 percent, ranks one spot ahead of the Broncos defense. It’s easy to see on film and with advanced data that the Chiefs will get to your quarterback. This makes running the ball and play-action passing even more important if the Broncos want to win on Sunday night.