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Broncos Film Room: Unconventional thinking could be the key to topping KC

Andre Simone Avatar
October 29, 2017

The Kansas City Chiefs are up next on the schedule for the Denver Broncos, and they couldn’t be coming at a worse time for the struggling Broncos. The Chiefs have been one of the best teams in the NFL in the first half of the season, thanks in large part to their explosive offense.

With the Broncos losing two in a row and desperate for an offensive spark, playing in Arrowhead against these Chiefs isn’t a recipe for success.

Drastic changes will be required, and that might not be the worst thing against a KC team that’s had the Broncos number the last couple meetings. That’s in part because, well, the Chiefs have almost been built to beat Denver.

Because of that, winning on Monday night to get the 2017 season back on track will require some out-of-the-box thinking that could really turn the tables on the AFC West division rivals.

Allow me to explain.

Getting in the zone

Denver’s defense has been dominant the past two and a half seasons, and even if they might not be single-handedly winning games this year, they’ve still been solid. The Broncos defense is loaded with talent and built to match up against even the best teams straight up. In most cases, they simply have more talent than the direct opponent, allowing them to man-up on the back end, with the ability to create pressure off the edges. On the outside, in key one-on-one matchups against opposing offensive tackles and wideouts, you expect the Broncos to win more often than not.

The Chiefs, however, have built the perfect man-beating offense. They have three impossible-to-matchup-with playmakers in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and now running back Kareem Hunt. None of which are conventional outside receivers who you can simply line up your talented corners on.

Hill and the addition of Hunt have given KC a greater element of speed and unpredictability that sees them use a ton of pre-snap motion, a classic man-beating tactic. As defenses get stretched horizontally pre-snap, the Chiefs can isolate and find great matchups for all three playmakers. Kelce in the slot is an animal and will be very hard to stop, even after that the catch where he’s a devastating runner. Hunt’s ability as a receiver out the backfield has revolutionized this offense, and Hill is among the toughest players to match up with in the entire NFL.

Hill’s speed is lethal, but you can’t simply stop him by bracketing coverage to his side as he’ll operate out the backfield, slot, and is easy to lose in the shuffle of all that the Chiefs do. He’s also deadly on reverses or returns where he can break down anyone in the open field with a fragment of space.

Surrounded by such an abundance of skill, quarterback Alex Smith has been more than solid in his decision making, orchestrating this group almost to perfection. When Smith doesn’t see one of his weapons open, he’s also a strong runner and has been used plenty in option plays where he’s dangerous with his feet.

Aside from incorporating more option and collegiate-style concepts, the Chiefs also use plenty of shotgun spread looks, allowing Smith to read and get throws out quickly. That’s how they’re able to lessen the impact of the outside rush.

One way to limit KC’s strengths on offense is by playing zone defense, something the Pittsburgh Steelers did two weeks ago in an upset of the Chiefs. Denver’s not known for playing zone, but it’s a way of clogging up the middle and taking away the impact of all the pre-snap motions. In man, you’re defending your man, so it’s easy to get stretched out and tricked by the Chiefs’ schemes. In zone, you just have to watch the quarterback, which would also take away some of Smith’s scrambles.

This season, the Broncos run defense has been significantly better, as they’re still leading the NFL in rushing yards allowed. They have dropped off the last two weeks as the New York Giants especially were able to impose their ground game. That can’t happen with Hunt. Denver’s going to need a great game not just from the big uglies up front but from the linebacking unit. The Chiefs love to use lots of pulls and creative running concepts, which stress the second level defenders ability to read and play quickly to the ball. With a banged up interior-backing unit, that’ll be a challenge.

The Broncos, despite their dominance a year ago, allowed 63 points from the division rivals in two games in 2016. Things have to change, and a heavy dose of zone and stout run defense will be crucial in changing things.

Keeping pace

If the 2016 Broncos defense allowed an average of 30 points per game a year ago, that means the Broncos offense will have to somewhat keep pace, no matter how good the defense is able to play.

Luckily, while good, the Chiefs defense can be scored on, and rank 25th in the league in rushing yards allowed. After starting off the season by blowing opponents off the ball and running all over them, the ground game’s production has fallen off a cliff in the last two games for the Broncos. With a banged-up offensive line, it won’t be easy, but it’s the only way Denver can win.

Additionally, Jamaal Charles or Devontae Booker need to be more of a factor in the passing game against these Chiefs who aren’t equipped with athletes at linebacker to stick in coverage with either of Denver’s two backs.

The Chiefs are also 29th in passing defense, and that’s really where they need to be exploited. A year ago, in the first meeting between these two teams, Trevor Siemian had one of the best games of his career in a 30-27 loss that really should’ve been won.

We broke down Siemian’s big game, one in which he was able to make big-time throws downfield and also plays with his feet. Especially throwing on the run, which was key for Trevor in the first month of the year, hasn’t been there in the last two losses. Restoring that will be essential.

The big worry offensively, aside from everything that’s gone wrong for the Broncos the last two weeks is the combination of the Arrowhead crowd and KC’s pass rushers. Against a struggling offensive tackle group, that could spell disaster. The Broncos need to be in tune on play calls and their silent count playing efficient error-free football.

It’ll be an uphill battle, but if the Broncos are willing to surprise the Chiefs by airing it out offensively and zoning up on ‘D’, they’ll have a shot.


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