Shortly after the week 9 victory over the Bills, I wrote a fanpost, Bye Week Formula--How to Beat Denver. In it, I discussed the focus each of the three Chiefs squads (offense, defense, and special teams) needed to take in the bye week if we want to beat the Broncos at home. Now that the bye week is long gone and the game is just two days away, it is worth examining how each of the three Chiefs squads must play their game in order to win.
The name of the game Sunday night must be ball control. Holding onto the ball for as long as possible is crucial to keeping Peyton Manning on the sideline for extended periods of time. Turnovers kill teams even when playing opponents who don't have the highest-scoring offense in the league.
Key to chewing up the clock and avoiding costly turnovers will be use of the running game. I understand that Andy Reid coaches the West Coast Offense, but respect must be given to the Broncos defense, who are playing decent fundamental football. The best way, in my view, to play this Broncos defense is through a well-balanced game plan. Run a couple toss sweeps with Jamaal Charles, force the Broncos to spread their defense out, then throw a tight end seam down the middle for a big gain. Kansas City musts keep Denver's defense constantly reeling. Pressure is on the defense this game, which means there is pressure on the offense to have a breakout performance.
Realistically, I don't expect 500 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. But if each and every player executes well and the game plan focuses on efficient, time-eating play, there is no reason why the Chiefs offense can't keep up with the Broncos.
The time has come for the Chiefs defense to truly establish itself as a dominant force in the AFC West and the NFL as a whole. So far, no opponent has scored more than 17 points on the Chiefs. Much as it pains me to admit it, I don't see the Broncos putting up fewer than 20 on us. However, if we play this game the right way, Kansas City could make Denver walk away with their lowest score of the season, as well as another loss.
Press coverage. If any secondary has what it takes to mitigate the damage which Denver's receiving corps is able to dish out, it is Kansas City. I like the match-ups of Sean Smith on Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Flowers on Wes Welker, and Marcus Cooper on Eric Decker, with Eric Berry covering Julius Thomas. Flowers has had the worst time, statistically, of the three this season; however, he only allows roughly 50% of the passes thrown to his man to be completed. If he's our worst cornerback, I'm fairly confident. However, the Chiefs had their best coverage success early in the season, when they played press man coverage. Manning eats zone defenses for breakfast. Accordingly, man defense with corners jamming at the line of scrimmage seems to be the best route to take.
This game, I believe, is the opportunity our pass rush hasn't had over the last few games to get back on track in terms of sack output. We know exactly what to expect from Manning--he's going to stay in the pocket, make reads, throw the ball. He won't scramble if there is any possible way to avoid it, and he won't run the option. This knowledge means the Chiefs can do what they do best, which is getting to the passer. Dontari Poe should have a huge game, and Houston and Hali have the opportunity to focus on rushing the quarterback. Disrupting Manning and getting him on the ground early and often should be the priority of Sutton's game plan.
The Chiefs defense has the opportunity to give Manning the worst game of his season. However, the only way to do so is to do what works best for Kansas City--exploiting personnel matchups, tight man coverage, and burying the opposing quarterback in red jerseys.
The most important battle of the game, beside possession time, will be field position. Giving the Chiefs offense short fields and the Broncos long ones could be the deciding factor Sunday night. Thus, good legal blocking on returns should be on the forefront of special teams players' minds, as should be making deep tackles on kick and punt coverage.
While I would like to believe that every Chiefs drive will culminate in a touchdown, I am realistic. With that in mind, hopefully Ryan Succop will be able to take advantage of the thinner Colorado air and hit some long field goals. Every point in this game will be fiercely contested, and neither team can afford a missed field goal.
The most important factor for each of the three phases this Sunday will be execution. The offensive line must block effectively to the whistle. The secondary must stick to their receivers like glue. Last but not least, the special teams players must give 100% in order to put the other two phases in a position to win.