As expected, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense and running backs made all of the big plays during a primetime victory over the Denver Broncos. The final score was 22-9 — but if the passing offense could have been more effective, it could have been an even bigger blowout. But for this week, we should enjoy the Chiefs fifth-straight win — one that put them right in the mix for the AFC’s top postseason seed.
Here are a few who stood out against the Broncos.
(Author’s note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams: Both Chiefs running backs were fairly effective both on the ground and in the air. Each had at least 80 total yards — and were the team’s leading receivers. The running backs also had the two biggest offensive plays: 38 and 29 yards respectively. It wasn’t a spectacular night, but these two guys carried the Chiefs’ offense.
Byron Pringle: What a play he made on the punt to end the third quarter! Pringle got downfield in a hurry, fought through a block and used the blocker to force a fumble. Then — in between three Broncos — Pringle came up with the football. He also had a good 14-yard reception to convert a big third down. Those two plays were enough to offset the one offensive drive that Pringle killed with two uncharacteristic drops.
Daniel Sorensen: Games like Sunday night’s are why Sorensen is on the roster: the one where he makes a game-sealing interception — and a tackle that takes points off the board. It’s almost always in the fourth quarter, usually against division opponents and often in primetime. His 75-yard pick-six was even courtesy of a tip by linebacker Ben Niemann — the defensive unit’s other most-hated player. Sorensen then followed the interception with a stuff on a two-point conversion to keep the margin of victory a little more comfortable. We’re not saying it’s worth it, that he should play more — or even that he should return next season. But this is the Daniel Sorensen Experience. Enjoy it when you can.
Melvin Ingram: Ingram was a big factor in the dominant defensive performance. From the hit on a fourth down stop to his first sack as a Chief, Ingram continued to make plays and elevate the pass rush of the entire front.
Steve Spagnuolo: Early in the season, it was difficult to see how things could get better for a unit that was being beaten at historic rates. But as many of his defenses have done over the years, Spags’ guys have really started to put it together. The Chiefs’ defensive coordinator has been masterful at making the right calls: blitzing at the right times and loading up against the run at others. Even when teams like the Broncos are moving the ball, the Chiefs defense has found ways to get pressure, end drives and force turnovers. Call them ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ or call them ‘opportunistic’ — but thanks to their across-the-board improvements and complementary play, we just might end up calling them ‘Champions.’
Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill: Neither of the Chiefs’ stars could really get anything going on Sunday night: just five combined catches for 49 yards on thirteen total targets. That’s not the production — or the efficiency — we’re used to seeing from these two. It’s clear the Broncos’ game plan was to rough Kelce up — keeping him from getting comfortable — but they were also successful in limiting the league’s fastest player.
Nike: At this point, I’m not even sure who else to blame. The Chiefs’ skill position players continue to have trouble catching and hanging on to the football. Kelce had a drop, Pringle had two on the same drive, Hill had one that (of course) ended up in the hands of a defender. It’s been such an issue — and so widespread — that we might as well blame the glove manufacturer.
Arm tacklers: The Chiefs defense faced a formidable rookie running back known for his ability to break tackles. Too many times, defenders tried to bring him down with an arm or a handful of jersey. Even Teddy Bridgewater evaded the Chiefs when they had him dead-to-rights on multiple potential sacks. Long term, it might not be something to worry about too much — but against Denver, Kansas City defenders really struggled with tackling.
Mecole Hardman: There was only one target to Hardman this week — albeit a positive one: a 12-yard catch-and-run. Apart from that one snap, it really seems like Mecole has been almost completely phased out of the Chiefs’ offense. We’ll see if it’s a temporary move — or a trend that will continue.