Hello, Bronco fans! We have a lot to feel good about the Broncos defense after the season opener against Baltimore, and on offense, we have some cause for optimism and some for concern. So what does this mean when it comes to Thursday’s outing at Arrowhead?
First, let’s be clear that the Broncos are far from being a finished product. Yes, it may be the regular season, but as history has shown, the teams that either end the regular season as the best team in the NFL, and the teams that go on to win the Super Bowl (whether that was the best team or not), don’t always start the year as the team to beat. In recent seasons, those teams struggled.
Remember last season? The New England Patriots couldn’t figure out their starting offensive line, Rob Gronkowski wasn’t at full strength and they didn’t have a consistent running game. As the season continued, Gronk got healthy, the Patriots got LeGarrette Blount back and he gave the running game stability and the offensive line played better as a unit. We know what happened from there.
And in Peyton Manning’s first season with the Broncos, he and the rest of the team started slowly. But the Broncos were arguably the best team in the NFL to close the regular season. They did make too many mistakes — a few that were uncharacteristic — in the divisional round against the Ravens. Still, the larger point is that the Broncos looked nothing like the best team in the NFL at the start of the season, but like a work in progress.
So it should be remembered with this Broncos team that what matters is how well this team finishes down the stretch. There is plenty to like about the defense, and the best part is that the Broncos can still get better in that department. (Yes, it’s time to say that the Orange Crush is back!) On the other side of the ball, the Broncos definitely need more than just field goals, but if they are patient, things should come together.
This brings me to Thursday’s matchup against Kansas City. The Chiefs deserve credit for a good season-opening win, and they will be no pushover, but let’s not assume the Broncos have an uphill battle. Because I think you’ll find the Chiefs are the ones that will have the tougher task ahead of them.
I take nothing away from Jamaal Charles and Travis Kelce. Charles is a top-three running back and I think Kelce is fast making his case that he is a top-three tight end, with only Gronk and Jimmy Graham ahead of him. But when you look at the KC game against Houston, Charles and Kelce each took advantage of short-field situations. This is to be expected from top offensive playmakers. If an opponent gives them great field position, they will capitalize.
Kelce’s first TD came after the Chiefs started a drive on Houston’s 13-yard line following an interception. Charles’ receiving TD came immediately after the Texans fumbled on fourth-and-long, giving KC the ball at the Houston 7-yard line. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that great offensive playmakers won’t score in those situations.
Kelce’s other TD came on a short reception he turned into a 44-yard score. In other words, it came on a big play. While I would expect Kelce will find the end zone at least once against the Broncos, I will tell you right now that it won’t happen on a big play. If the Broncos give the Chiefs favorable field position, then yes, either he or Charles will score.
But this is a Broncos defense that just isn’t going to give up the big play that easily. So if the Chiefs want to score multiple touchdowns, they’ll need efficient drives that eat up the clock and keep the Broncos defense on the field. Against Houston, they had three such drives, all which ended in field goal attempts, one that missed. If the Broncos don’t turn the ball over so that the Chiefs offense starts in the red zone, it’s going to be a tough outing for KC.
Oh, but what about Alex Smith and his ability to scramble outside the pocket? I don’t see that being as much of a factor as people think. Let’s not forget that the Broncos hounded Russell Wilson in the preseason opener, and that’s was when DeMarcus Ware didn’t play a snap. Sure, Wilson got out of the pocket for yards once Von Miller went out, but do you really think Smith can run around the field all the time when the Broncos have their best players in the lineup? I think Smith will find it a lot harder to get away from defenders, given how aggressive Wade Phillips has this defense playing.
True, the Seattle offensive line is struggling and KC’s line isn’t as bad. But the Ravens’ offensive line at full strength is better than KC’s and we all know how many problems the Ravens O-line had with containing the Broncos’ pass rush. I can see the Chiefs having the same problem. Last year’s defense certainly let Smith get away too many times, but this isn’t last year’s defense. Smith will get a few passes off, but just like Flacco, the pressure should get to him as long as the Broncos stay aggressive.
Offensively, the main issue for the Broncos is to take care of the ball and do a better job of picking up the blitz. Justin Houston is a terrific player, but it’s more likely you’ll see other KC defenders who will give the Broncos issues if the backs don’t disrupt the blitz. But if the line can come together and open up more holes early, it could do a lot to wear down the KC defense.
This won’t be an easy matchup, but it’s not one I’m overly worried about. I think it’s going to be a close game in which you may not see a lot of scoring in the first half, and what it will come down to whose defense avoids getting worn down in the second half. Given how much Phillips likes to rotate defensive players, I’m betting the Orange Crush holds up longer than KC’s D, as long as the Denver O takes care of the ball.
So what does everyone else think?