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Broncos vs. Chiefs: 7 things to watch for

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The Chiefs are coming off of a mini-bye week to face a division rival on Monday Night Football. This is what it’s all about, Chiefs fans. Expect a contentious, back and forth game in the best environment in football. The story lines include the return of some familiar faces, an emerging playmaker and a Chiefs coaching staff attempting to get back on track.

Below are a few things we’ll be watching for this week, as always feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

1) Jamaal returns to Arrowhead

Let’s get this out of the way now: he should not be booed. He’s an all-time Chiefs great that was cut by the team that drafted and developed him. He didn’t choose to leave, wasn’t offered a pay cut, was just let go and told to retire. Welcome him back to Arrowhead with open arms and hope the Chiefs defense shuts him down. Charles should be in the Chiefs hall of fame when his career is over, but he’s back for at least one game with the Broncos. It’ll be fun to see what he has left.

2) Who else comes back?

The Chiefs have lost a significant player nearly every week to injury. This week they may get a few of them back on the field. Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Charcandrick West are practicing and could provide a significant boost to the Chiefs offense. As of now, Tamba Hali isn’t practicing and hasn’t been activated, and Justin Houston is limited with a knee injury, so the pass rush may not get the same boost. Perhaps the most anticipated return is that of cornerback Steven Nelson. After seeing the secondary struggle against the Raiders, adding the feisty, physical Nelson to the mix should be more than welcome. Watch to see if they can shake off the rust and show why they were the starters in the first place.

3) Who will step up on defense?

The Chiefs defense is predicated upon two conflicting concepts. On one hand, they are a bend but don’t break unit. They’ll give up some yards to opposing offenses between the 20 yard lines, but expect to clamp down before allowing points. On the other hand, they are at their best when they are a playmaking, opportunistic defense. They thrive on turnovers and sacks and they struggle when they don’t get them.

Against Oakland, they were neither bend-but-don’t-break nor opportunistic. They gave up big plays in the passing game, and didn’t force a turnover or record an (official) sack. The talk all week was about how much they miss Eric Berry and about how Justin Houston was being misused. I’d argue that moving forward none of that matters. Someone needs to make a play. Dee Ford, Chris Jones, DJ, Peters, Mitchell or the aforementioned Justin Houston. The Chiefs have playmakers on defense. The need them to start making more plays. Especially when the game is on the line ... who will step up?

4) The continued development of Demarcus Robinson

D-Rob stepped in when Conley went down as the team’s No. 2 receiver. He looked lost at first, but settled in to a productive role against the Raiders. Robinson was able to do a lot of the things you would want to see from a secondary receiver in this offense. The most important roles for him at this point are to block downfield, catch the ball when targeted and make himself a reliable option for Alex Smith. If he’s also able to create big plays on his own, and run after the catch (which he excelled at in college), that’s a huge bonus. Keep an eye on No. 14 this week, see if he can continue to improve and secure his position as part of the future of this team.

5) Will the Chiefs respond like a contender?

Coming off of two tough losses in a short span, the Chiefs are like a boxer who has taken a flurry of punches from his opponent and got knocked down. The question now is, will they jump back up off of the canvas, or are they down for the count? If they can take it to the Broncos in primetime and show they are still among the league’s best, it’s a great sign. They’ve taken the best shot from two strong NFL teams, and are still on top of the division and conference. If they fall flat against Denver, they won’t be considered a championship contender for the immediate future. Watch to see how the Chiefs respond to adversity this week.

6) Strength on strength

The Broncos have a very good defense, the Chiefs a very good offense. Von Miller and Shane Ray will get after Fisher and Schwartz and attempt to slow down MVP candidate Alex Smith. Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris will blanket Hill and Kelce, and Derek Wolfe and Brandon Marshall will do their best to stop Kareem Hunt. We’re about to see if the Kansas City offense has taken the next step to being a unit that can line up against one of the best defenses in the league and still dominate.

7) The coaching advantage

After the Patriots win, media and fans alike raved about the job Andy Reid did with the Chiefs creative offensive scheme, varied playcalling and formations. Not to mention the defensive scheme by Bob Sutton that seemed to be perfect at least for one week. Bob Sutton appeared to drop more into coverage early, forcing Brady to throw deep with little success, then brought more pressure in the second half to close the game out. I mention the success of the Chiefs coaches against New England to contrast with the widely criticized effort against Oakland and Pittsburgh.

Every game plan, and every play is brilliant when it works (and stupid when it doesn’t). It’s clear that this Chiefs team is to a certain extent dependent upon coaching and scheme to win each week. Against Denver, it’s fair to argue that Kansas City has an advantage at head coach and defensive coordinator. It’s critical that the Chiefs make adjustments to mask deficiencies and feature strength of this team. Watch to see if Reid and Sutton can put their players at an advantage once again.