KC Chiefs game plan: Stopping the Denver Broncos

Jamie Squire

It is now officially Denver Broncos week, the game the country wants to see. This is the opportunity for the Kansas City Chiefs to make a statement to the rest of the AFC and the NF that they are for real. Below is what the Kansas City will be contending with on Sunday Night Football in Denver.

Broncos offense

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The Broncos offense revolves around timing and precision. The route-running is precise. The routes must be run exactly right or the timing is thrown off. Peyton Manning wants a clean pocket to make all of his throws. The purpose of this offense is to spread out the defense, create one-on-one mismatches and exploit them. The Broncos will throw in runs to keep a team honest and to make their play-action effective but their passing game is what makes this team tick.

Quarterback

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Peyton Manning is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL right now.  The ability to diagnose a defense during his pre-snap reads, check into the correct play and exploit a defense are second to none. Manning can find the weakness in a majority of defenses in just a couple seconds.

Manning is a rhythm quarterback. He wants to get the ball out in four seconds. If he doesn't, he starts to get antsy. You will commonly hear the words "Hurry, hurry" and "Omaha, Omaha" during the game. Omaha is typically used on a run play but I've seen Manning use it to get defenders to bite on play-action from time to time.

Manning has been sacked a grand total of 14 times this season. The ball is typically out between 3-5 seconds on every passing play. He is a sitting duck in the pocket. He wants to step up in the pocket if the outside pass rush attempts to flush him out. If you take away that pocket, it is the only time I've seen him scramble out to his right. If you take away Manning's ability to step into his throws, you take away his accuracy and you rattle him. If you hit him, you speed up the time he wants to get rid of the ball.

Manning can be rattled. He is, in fact, human but what separates him from most is how he beats you in pre-snap reads.

The running game

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Although he isn't the star in Denver, Knowshon Moreno has become an effective complement to the Broncos passing game. Moreno has taken hold of the starting running back position. He has been a key contributor in helping move the chains.

Moreno is one of Manning's more reliable safety valves when the receivers are covered. Moreno has also been big in their screen game. He typically runs off tackle, cutbacks and some dive plays. Moreno isn't a big factor in blitz pickup because he is normally performing a check down for Manning. Ronnie Hillman has good speed but a fumbling problem that keeps him from seeing the field.

Receivers

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The Broncos have a unique wide receiving and tight end corp.

Demaryius Thomas is their most athletic wide receiver. He is their favorite match-up in the screen game or smoke routes. They will run him on verticals, deep in routes and crossing routes. Thomas is their stretch-the-field receiver.

Wes Welker, their slot receiver, is precision at its finest. Welker runs some of the most precise routes I've ever seen. He is quick in and out of his cuts and is a veteran at reading the cornerback. Welker will run a lot of option routes depending on how the corner is playing him. He is Manning's go-to wide receiver and first safety valve. Defenses have given Welker the Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates treatment in the red zone this season. If the Broncos really want to get him the ball, they will use picks and occasionally run him out of the backfield.

Eric Decker is typically an outside receiver for them and is their mismatch against the No. 2 corner. Decker seems to be their primary deep ball game but is capable of running all the routes.

The other member of this nightmare is tight end Julius Thomas, who has the athletic ability of a big possession receiver. He is tough for safeties and linebackers to stop. He is the second safety valve. Manning understands how to get the ball to Thomas where only he has a chance to catch it. Typically Thomas has good match-ups and Manning loves to take advantage of it.

One thing to keep an eye on: when it's a running play, the backside receivers will run at an angle to perform their blocks. I also have seen them use that key to get Welker a touchdown off play-action against the Giants. The concerning aspect of their game though is the amount of offensive pass interferences they run that are not called. I counted at least five every game. It becomes offensive pass interference if the receiver is not trying to finish their route. If they just stand in the way or block, that should be offensive pass interference. The Broncos, for some reason, rarely get this called and have gotten many red zone touchdowns because of it.

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Broncos defense

The Broncos defense is very interesting. They aren't dominant at any aspect of their game. They are giving up around 13 yards per catch, primarily because of the lack of an effective pass rush. The defensive line's mission seems to be maintaining the line of scrimmage. Not allowing the linemen to get to the second level on their linebackers and shucking the blocker when they back comes near their gap.

Defensive line

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Kevin Vickerson is the first guy to start with. He is a hot head. If you get in Vickerson's head you can force him into making personnel foul penalties. He is also talented at shucking the lineman and making the play or shooting the gap from time to time.

Derek Wolfe is a strong end but doesn't create much of a pass rush. Malik Jackson has made a handful of plays but still seems to be learning the game.

Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers are where a majority of the Broncos pass rush comes from. They seemed to be the only ones capable of getting to the QB.

Linebackers

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Von Miller coming back is a welcome addition for the Broncos (not the Chiefs). They need his presence opposite Phillips and Ayers. Miller didn't look to be in football condition when he played the Colts in Week 7. That is to be expected because it will likely take him a month to get use to football speed again as well as the hitting factor. Miller is still a player you must account for on every play.

The backer that seems to slip under the radar is Wesley Woodyard.  Woodyard is a hard-hitting player. He has to speed to go from sideline to sideline and can lay the wood. He is a guy who can cause some damage if you don't account for him.

Secondary

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the only player who stood out to me. He made a handful of deflections but also had some coverage issues. I didn't see much from this secondary that concerned me.

How they will attack

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On offense, the Broncos are going to get the ball out quick. They are going test out the Chiefs pass rush. If they blitz, Manning will use screens to slow them down. Manning will be looking for where Kendrick Lewis is aligned. They will pick on him with two vertical routes running to his side. They will make him choose and once he does Manning will throw to the other vertical. Manning got a touchdown off the high-low combo of Jalil Brown and Kendrick Lewis on a vertical against Demaryius Thomas last season. Lastly, the Broncos will try to exploit the run with the Chiefs in their sub-packages. They used it against Kansas City last year and I expect to see it again this season.

On defense, the Broncos are going to try and attack the Chiefs with blitz through the A gap. There are enough blitzes on tape with twist and stunts. They will attempt every one of them against the Chiefs. I also expect them to try and force the runs back inside. The Broncos are stout against the run inside the tackles but weak on the edges.

Special teams

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The Broncos used a fake punt in a crucial situation against the Jaguars. They Broncos offense had just been stopped by the Jaguars defense. The momentum was in Jacksonville's favor. The Broncos were at midfield and got a 30-plus yard gain off the fake punt. The Broncos scored soon after and regained a comfortable lead.

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The guy who must be talked about is return man Trindon Holliday, who is as fast as they come. He can take a ball on a hop; make a couple of defenders miss and go 84 yards in the blink of an eye. The Chiefs are going to have to keep the net on Holliday.

It's important to contain Holliday so that Manning has longer fields to work with.

Keys to victory

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Chiefs on offense:
  1. Attack the edges- The Broncos can be exploited outside of the tackle box. Their speed overall is lacking. If they seal the edge consistently, Jamaal Charles could have a 200-plus rushing yards.
  2. Take some shots- The weakness of this pass rush and their secondary is a great opportunity to gain some confidence. So take some shots in the passing game.
  3. Control the clock- This is a week where possession of the ball is crucial. If you keep Manning on the sidelines, you take him out of his rhythm.
Chiefs on defense:

  1. Collapse the pocket quickly- The ball will be gone in four seconds. This defense must find ways to collapse the pocket in Manning's face to force difficult throws.
  2. Disrupt the Timing- Pressing the receivers is crucial to disrupting their routes. Manning doesn't like his offense out of sync. So get physical on every play.
  3. Keep the safeties high and avoid the sub-package burns- This is really two points but they are the other factor in this game. Most teams have been successful keeping two men deep against Manning. It limits the amount of shots he can take on vertical throws and keeps a last line of defense against the screen game. Avoiding the sub-package burns comes from an article I wrote last week. If Manning seems that Chiefs defensive formation, I expect him to audible to a run. The defense has had struggles in that formation with run fits and getting off blocks.

Overall

This is going to be a great challenge. This is the best offense in the NFL from a mismatch perspective. The Chiefs pass rush and secondary will be challenged in the same way they were against the Texans, Browns and Bills. All had talented tight ends and wide receiver corps. None of them had a Peyton Manning though.

The Chiefs have a great shot to get a win in this game but it will take a lights-out effort from the pass rush and secondary. Kansas City also needs to have a very good ground game to run the clock out on Manning.

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