Week 13 could not have gone radically different for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos. While Kansas City decimated the secondary of the Buccaneers with a prolific connection between star QB Patrick Mahomes and star wideout Tyreek Hill, the Broncos struggled just to complete a pass as COVID-19 forced the Broncos to call up practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton to play QB. Will the Broncos’ defense be strong enough to prevent Kansas City from having a big day on offense or will Mahomes and company be too much for Denver to handle? Here are the keys to the game for both of these teams:
Keys to the game for the Denver Broncos:
1. Continue to run the football
The Broncos have arguably played their best football this season when they have been able to effectively run the ball with Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay, among others. The Broncos tried to run the ball a lot in their Week 12 loss to New Orleans, but it just did not work, as the Saints’ defense has been stout against the run all season (the Saints allow just 3.3 yards per rush, currently tied for first in the NFL in least yards per attempt). With practice squad wideout Kendall Hinton thrown into the fire due to COVID, the Broncos were unable to get anything started on offense, especially in the run game where Denver had 33 rushes but only had 100 yards combined from five different rushers. With Lindsay expected to miss some time, it will be up to Gordon and Royce Freeman to shoulder the load against a Chiefs team that is currently ninth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (128.2). In all four of Denver’s wins this season, the Broncos have rushed for 108 or more yards. Denver’s rush offense hasn’t been as much of the issue this season, but this team still needs to be more persistent with the run game, especially if Denver finds itself in a similar situation as in Week 12.
2. Force other playmakers to step up for K.C. besides Hill and Kelce
This is much easier said than done. Nobody has been really able to figure out how to defend the Chiefs this season with the exception of the New England Patriots and the Las Vegas Raiders to some extent. The Broncos could also be in that conversation due to how they were able to play Travis Kelce the first time around. Despite giving up 43 points to the Chiefs the first time these two teams met this season, Kansas City only scored three offensive touchdowns as Denver forced the Chiefs into three field goals when Kansas City got on to Denver’s side of the field. One of Kansas City’s offensive touchdowns did come from Hill, who is coming off the best game of his career against the Buccaneers, where he torched their secondary to the tune of 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 receptions. In the first matchup between these two teams, the Broncos were able to lock down Kelce, as he only compiled 31 yards on three receptions. Hill also only had six receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown in that game. However, these numbers are a little misleading, as Kansas City really didn’t have to throw the ball around in that game since it was snowing and the touchdowns from its defense and special teams allowed the Chiefs to use more of a conservative approach. Denver cannot rely on inclement weather again for this one, as Kansas City is very good at changing its gameplan from week to week. Denver’s secondary has been hard to throw on all season (currently seventh in the league in passing yards given up with 210.1 per game). If Denver wants to have a shot in this game, it has to do a good job on Kelce and Hill and force players like Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson among others to beat them. Denver should not expect Kansas City to be so conservative once again.
3. Get Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler involved in the passing game
Rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler have shown flashes of what they are capable of through their first season of professional football. Obviously, the Broncos’ Week 12 loss to the Saints was not indicative of how Jeudy and Hamler have played all season, since only one pass was completed on that day. However, Jeudy and Hamler have been inconsistent to say the least this season. Jeudy flashed against fellow first-rounder A.J. Terrell in a Week 9 loss to the Falcons that saw the Alabama product catch seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in what has been the best game of his brief career. Hamler also had a good showing in that same game (six catches for 75 yards). Overall, these two players have had to step into the shoes of Courtland Sutton, who will not play this season, and their inexperience along with the inconsistencies at quarterback have been very apparent. Whether it is quick passes on screens or something similar, the Broncos cannot continue to have Tim Patrick be the top receiver every game with how much potential Jeudy and Hamler have. Look for the Broncos to design some plays to take advantage of a Chiefs’ pass defense that is currently 16th in the league in yards given up through the air with 232.5 in order to make this matchup much closer than the first time around.
Keys to the game for the Kansas City Chiefs
1. Force Drew Lock (or whoever starts at QB) into more turnovers
One thing that has plagued the Broncos all year has been turnovers. The first matchup between these two teams saw the Chiefs force Denver into not one, not two, but four turnovers. Two were interceptions of second-year QB Drew Lock, one of which was turned into a defensive touchdown. On the season, Lock has a total of 12 turnovers, including 11 interceptions in only eight games. The Missouri product was always known as a gunslinger in college, but he has not made the wisest of decisions this season, which has led to Denver getting down early or nearly blowing games. Kansas City currently sits as the sixth-highest team in turnover percentage at 14.9%. With Lock’s careless passes, turning him over should be another point of emphasis if Kansas City wants to cruise to another big victory over this division rival. Kansas City has forced at least one turnover in every game this season, a huge reason for Kansas City being 10-1. Furthermore, Kansas City is 2-0 in games in which the team has forced four turnovers, including the first matchup between K.C. and Denver. It will be interesting to see if Kansas City can continue to bait Lock into more poor decisions in order to quickly gain the upper hand against Denver.
2. Win the time of possession
There are not many ways to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, hence why this team has only lost once since losing to the Titans in Week 10 of the 2019 season. One of the few ways to beat this team is to control the time of possession. Viewers have seen teams like the Chargers and Patriots be able to execute this plan to some extent but falter in the last quarter or so. In order to ensure that Kansas City is not on the brink of potentially losing once again, this team has to do a good job of controlling the clock, especially against a team like Denver that is probably going to run the ball early and often. First-round selection Clyde Edwards-Helaire has not had the electric season that most analysts expected him to, but he has still been a very solid back to start his career. Add in veteran Le’Veon Bell and this team has two backs who are capable of helping the Chiefs ensure their offense is the one in full control in this game. The Broncos may not be the most consistent team this season, but they have been very capable of pulling off some surprising wins, like they did against the Patriots and the Dolphins. Denver did this by controlling the tempo and not giving the other team many opportunities to get down the field with a strong defensive performance. Expect Kansas City to attack a Denver rush defense that currently ranks sixth in the lead in rushing yards given up per game with 131.3 in order to ensure that they are able to continue their strong start to the 2020 campaign.
3. Don’t let the foot off of the gas pedal
One thing that has been very interesting about Kansas City is how well the Chiefs can score in bursts. Under Mahomes, the Chiefs have scored a lot of points, but many of those points have come in one quarter of play. In other words, the Kansas City offense slows down at certain points in the game. This was evident in Kansas City’s Week 12 win against the Buccaneers. The final score was 27-24 in favor of the reigning Super Bowl champions, but this game could have easily been more lopsided. The Chiefs started off extremely fast as they managed to score 17 points in the first quarter, but then they only managed to score 10 points the rest of the game. Sure, the Buccaneers have one of the better defenses in the league, but Kansas City had them on the ropes early and were unable to put the game away earlier due to conservative play calling and poor execution in the red zone. In the game against the Buccaneers, the Chiefs’ two field goal attempts happened in or near the red zone along with their lone turnover of the game. If the Chiefs are able to convert there, there is no room for Tom Brady to make a potential comeback attempt. Furthermore, the Chiefs continually tried to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, even at the beginning of it, where one could argue that if the Chiefs had continued to play an aggressive brand of football, the Buccaneers would not have been able to make this a close game. The Chiefs have scored in bursts like this for a while now, and it is important that the Chiefs do not give a team like the Broncos any room to breathe in this one. Denver has virtually nothing to lose at this point, which could make them a very scary team to be playing. Kansas City cannot allow Denver to get back in this game or it may not be so lucky to escape with a win despite what Denver’s record currently is.
Stats from: Pro-Football-Reference, ESPN