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Chiefs-Broncos Instabreakdown: Sluggish offense masked by defense, special teams

On Thursday evening, Kansas City’s other two units picked up the slack for the offense.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 19, Denver Broncos 8

Offense (Caleb James)

In the end, the Chiefs’ offense did just enough to win — but against one of the league’s worst defenses, it was still a lackluster, head-scratching performance.

Poor play (and horrific play-calling) were present throughout the game as the offense struggled to create even the smallest bit of momentum.

By the box score, quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a decent enough game, going 30 for 40 for 306 yards and a touchdown. Despite this efficiency, he struggled to create a connection with any player not named Travis Kelce or Rashee Rice. On the game’s second drive, a putrid interception (while under extreme pressure) took points off the board.

Throughout the game, the timing between Mahomes and his pass-catchers was off. Mahomes was looking through reads in pockets that were more than clean, but could not get on the same page with his route runners.

Still, Kelce had a season-high 124 receiving yards on nine receptions — while Rice finished with four receptions for 72 yards.

Kadarious Toney caught a touchdown but was otherwise quiet for most of the game. Skyy Moore recorded two receptions for 22 yards. Veterans Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson were each targeted once — but neither recorded a catch.

The running game had some decent spurts but failed to get going for most of the game. Isiah Pacheco finished with 16 carries for 62 yards and Clyde Edwards-Helarie had only two carries for seven yards. Jerick McKinnon did not get a carry.

The team was awful on third down, being held to only four conversions in thirteen attempts. While some of these were third-and-long situations, the team also struggled on third-and-short.

Another sloppy week of offensive football was masked by a good team win — and a great performance from placekicker Harrison Butker.

Offensive Player of the Game: Wide receiver Rashee Rice

After Kelce torched the Broncos in the first half, they were prepared to sell out on him in the second half. This led to Kansas City seeing its first prolonged glimpse of what Rice could become in the offense.

With an explosive 18 yards per reception, Rice showed off his yards-after-catch ability — and that he should be the clear-cut second option in the offense behind Kecle. Mahomes looked more comfortable going to Rice than any other receiver on the roster

Feasting over the middle of the field, Rice looked like he was playing a combination of the JuJu Smith-Schuster and Sammy Watkins roles from years past.

Rice caught all four of his targets — and for the first time, truly looked comfortable in the offense. This could be the spark plug that propels him into becoming a regular staple in the offense.

Defense (Ron Kopp Jr.)

It was a strong showing from a unit that has had plenty of them this season. The Broncos couldn’t manage a score until there were six minutes left in the game. It was their only drive that advanced into the red zone — and one of only three that crossed midfield. Denver’s passing game ended up averaging just 3.2 yards per attempt, totaling only 82 yards.

Kansas City’s front seven allowed some decent gains on the ground — but came alive on passing downs. Early on, defensive end Mike Danna nearly earned a sack before letting Russell Wilson out of his grasp. Then the line pressured Wilson into a sack by safety Justin Reid. Later, defensive tackle Chris Jones got the quarterback for another drive-ending sack.

Wilson was sacked four times. Those plays — and others behind the line of scrimmage — didn’t all come from the big guys. Rookie safety Chamarri Conner registered a tackle-for-loss early on and linebacker Drue Tranquill ran down Wilson for a sack in an important spot. In the second half, linebacker Leo Chenal made a solo tackle that turned a run into negative yardage.

Once again, the back seven was the main cog in the defensive machine. Tight coverage forced Wilson to hold onto the ball — or when he did test the narrow windows, intercept it. Linebacker Nick Bolton sank back in coverage for an interception — while at another point, linebacker Willie Gay batted up a pass that was intercepted.

Cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie turned in another shutdown performance. The biggest play for Denver’s top receivers came when Courtland Sutton made an incredible one-handed catch over cornerback Jaylen Watson for an 11-yard touchdown.

Outside of that play, Sutton and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy combined for just six catches and 49 yards.

Defensive Player of the Game: Defensive end George Karlaftis

Before the game, Karlaftis tested out the tweaked hamstring that made him a limited participant in this week’s practice. It was good enough to go — and that was evident early on. On the first drive, Karlaftis showed a sick inside move that forced Wilson to scramble (and eventually be sacked) on fourth down. Later in the first half, he beat the left tackle around the edge and was just a half a second late to the quarterback, splitting a sack with Chris Jones.

Karlaftis was active — as usual — but he put a cherry on top with two batted passes. Both came late in the first half. The second-year edge defender deserves a shout-out not only for playing through a lingering injury, but excelling with it.

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