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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — What a challenge, and opportunity, the Denver Broncos have on their hands on Monday night.
Not only do the Kansas City Chiefs have the best offensive start to a season since the 2013 Peyton Manning-led Broncos, but they’ve also won five-straight games against the Broncos with three of those coming in Denver.
But, it’s a divisional game in the Mile High air, so anything can happen.
Here’s how the BSN Broncos’ crew sees the game unfolding in front of the entire nation on primetime.
WILL THE BRONCOS BE THE FIRST TO SLOW DOWN PATRICK MAHOMES?
Nope — Unfortunately for Denver, they simply don’t have the horses to slow down this Chiefs’ offense. The good news—I guess—is that nobody has the horses to slow down this Chiefs’ offense.
Between Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Kareem Hunt, KC is absolutely loaded offensively and Denver’s defense, while stout upfront, isn’t strong enough in the back end to truly “slow down” this offense.
Good luck — Patrick Mahomes has been absolute money through the first three games of the 2018 season, there’s no doubt about that. But his success is much bigger than him. And that’s what will make it extremely difficult to slow him down.
The Chiefs’ offense runs four deep with their weapons — Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt — not to mention Andy Reid’s nearly flawless scheme. Stopping one won’t do much in slowing Mahomes down.
It’ll take an entire team effort to slowly all of them down, which would then slow Mahomes down.
So far, Denver hasn’t proven they can slow an entire team down in the passing game, as they’re giving up the 12th-most yards through the air.
History’s not on their side — Even before hitting this unstoppable pace in 2018, the Chiefs have been a tough matchup for this Broncos defense. Considering how well things have gone for them so far and that no one’s been able to write the book on how to stop them, I’d say no.
The bigger issue is Denver’s defense has played too much soft off coverage with a bend don’t break type mentality, and that simply won’t work against these Chiefs. Worst yet, the secondary’s looked a bit slow and with KC’s speed at receiver that could be a problem.
HOW SHOULD THE BRONCOS ATTEMPT TO STOP THE CHIEFS’ OFFENSE?
Press and pray — If the Broncos are going to have a chance at stopping this offense, it’s going to be with their stable of pass rushers. For those pass rushers to have success, the secondary is going to have to force Mahomes to hold onto the ball.
The best plan, in my opinion, is to play tough press-man coverage, throw off the timing between Mahomes and his receivers and pray that your pass rushers get there before a guy like Tyreek Hill gets loose behind the press coverage.
Maul Mahomes — Reid has done a brilliant job setting Mahomes up for success, and he’s taken full advantage of that, putting up 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions.
Along with giving Mahomes easy reads nearly every play, Reid has kept his young quarterback out of harm’s way. In order to shake the confidence of Mahomes, and force him into poor decisions, Denver will need to hit him early and often, which won’t be an easy task as Mahomes likes to get the ball out of his hand fast.
Get physical — Mahomes has carved up zone defenses with his big arm and ability to extend plays, and the Chiefs offense is impossible to cover in man, with all their speed, and pre-snap motions, so simple coverages won’t work.
Disguises are necessary with man-zone combination looks, and you have to play them straight up. Double on Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, and the rest of the playmakers will light you up.
Unless it’s someone like Hill, I’d also play some press and try to disrupt the timing of their routes.
Disrupting their rhythm will also help the pass rush up front which must play a huge role for the Broncos. The Chiefs offensive line is very good but they are the weakness of this unit, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and the gang up front will have to constantly pressure Mahomes to stop their aerial attack.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER A BOUNCE-BACK PERFORMANCE FOR KEENUM?
At least two more TDs than INTs — After going minus one in the last two games, Keenum needs to come out and, at the very least, even up his touchdown-to-interception ratio this week.
While they’re better than they look on paper, the Chiefs defense is nothing special, and they’ve struggled to take the ball away from their opponents. If Keenum is going to get back on the right track at any point this season, it needs to start on Monday.
Plus 1 — Keenum has yet to have more touchdowns than interceptions in a game with the Broncos, settling for an even split in his first game and minus-one in the last two.
Moving forward, the expectations need to be realistic with the quarterback that had over a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio with the Minnesota Vikings last year.
A bounce-back game from Keenum on Monday would be to finish on the plus side of that equation for the first time this year, especially against a Chiefs’ defense that is better than most believe. That, however, wouldn’t necessarily be enough to beat the Chiefs, let alone keep it close.
Four keys — Keenum needs to show better ball placement and a bit more zip to the sideline. He needs to be more consistent on third down where he’s completing only 35-percent of his throws, and No. 4 needs to show a bit more chemistry with his wideouts, getting the ball out quicker, throwing receivers open. Finally, I want to see him play turnover-free in the red zone.
Win or lose, forget the stats; if the QB improves in those areas he won’t just bounce back, he’ll ease most of the concerns that came up after Baltimore.
THE BRONCOS WIN IF
They run the ball all over the Chiefs — As I wrote this week, the best defense for the Broncos in this game is their offense. They absolutely need to stay on the field and sustain long drives by running the ball.
For me, the numbers are 40+ carries for 150+ yards; if they can pull that off, they’ll have a great chance in this game.
They absolutely dominate time of possession — Bill Musgrave and Case Keenum summed it up perfectly in their preparation for the Chiefs.
“Our best defense is when Von [Miller] is over on the sideline, pumping the crowd up, and I’m out there trying to get them to be quiet while we’re moving down the field,” Keenum said.
“Let’s keep them right where they belong, on their sideline,” Musgrave said, referring to the Chiefs’ offense that is averaging 39 points per game. “Keep our defense over there, nice and rested, so when they do have to do their job, they’re fresh. That means putting together drives, ending up in the end zone and getting points all of the time.”
They key, as explained by the two offensive leaders, is to keep the ball out of the hands of the NFL’s best offense.
The winning formula for the Broncos will be to hold onto the ball for as close to 40 minutes as possible, limiting the Chiefs to having the ball only half that time.
They start fast — First and foremost, they have to tackle on defense and rattle Mahomes early. A quick start is crucial and this time, winning the turnover battle is a must.
The Chiefs offense can light up scoreboards but their defense doesn’t scare you in coverage, Denver needs to put up points and win the turnover battle, with the crowd behind them, the Broncos can win.
Royce Freeman — While Phillip Lindsay should play a large role, too, it’s Freeman who could really put the Broncos in a great position by punishing the Kansas City defense in the power-run game.
If Freeman can get rolling, Denver’s path to victory becomes a lot more clear, and, of course, it’ll open things up for Lindsay to get going, as well.
Patrick Mahomes — Easy. If Denver is going to have any chance of winning this game, they’re going to have to throw Mahomes off the incredible track he’s on.
Last year, Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards, yet only averaged 40.5 rushing yards per game against Denver. With Denver’s run defense stout again this year, only giving up 77.7 yards per game, the Chiefs’ offense will continue to run through Mahomes.
Slow him down, and they’ll have a chance.
Von Miller — Von had a great game containing Russel Wilson in the pocket Week 1, getting to Mahomes with inside moves will be just as key. I expect a big game by Von who might even make some plays in coverage to the flats.
Chiefs 38, Broncos 28 — While there is a path to victory for the Broncos, it just seems like too many things have to go right for them to be able to walk away winners.
While I do believe they will hang in there for most of the game, eventually, Kansas City’s offense will get the best of them with their immense fire power.
Chiefs 34, Broncos 24 — The NFL has had no answer for everything the Chiefs’ offense brings to the table and after seeing Denver’s pass defense struggle early, it’s difficult picturing how they will have success against the red-hot Chiefs.
Holding Kansas City to 34 would actually be an admirable job compared to what the rest of the league has done so far.
Not to mention the Chiefs’ defense is better than many believe.
Chiefs 31, Broncos 24 —The Broncos defense just hasn’t inspired confidence lately with the poor play from the back seven. This will be a tough one unless Joe Woods comes up with the game plan of all game plans.
The Broncos offense gets back on track and is able to score on KC, but ultimately Denver falls to 2-2.