Sep 29, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; New York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle (26) misses a tackle as Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (82) scores a touchdown during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 31-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One Chief, One Bronco, One Matchup. (Part 1)

AA - Crowd Noise final

We all know that football is a team sport. And sometimes in football, the best scheme wins. But within the teams and schemes, individual matchups rule.

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the Denver Broncos this week and next, I’m going to offer what I think are the two most important individual matchups on the field. This week, I’ll look at the most important player match-up when the Chiefs have the ball. Next week, I’ll do the same for the scenario that has everyone in the NFL salivating: when the Chiefs defense takes on the Broncos offense.

The Broncos defense is not quite as bad as their offense is good, but they are pretty bad. They are tied for 25th in the League in points allowed, with 27.3 points per game. Even Pittsburgh, which gave up 55 points to the New England Patriots last week, is ranked higher than the Broncos. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Broncos D is ranked 18th in total defense and their run defense is actually ranked fourth best. It’s their pass defense – ranked 22nd – that has brought the defense down.

Of course, no one’s exactly handing out offensive awards to the Kansas City Chiefs this year. The Chiefs are 16th in the League in scoring, although a third of their points are from either the special teams or defense. Using FootballOutsiders.com again, the Chiefs rank 16th in overall offense. They are 17th in passing and 8th in rushing offense.

Conventional wisdom would certainly suggest that the best way to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos is simply to keep him off the field. For conventional game plans, that would translate into a clock-eating ground game with lots of carries for Jamaal Charles and even Knile Davis. We’d expect to see a lot of fullback Anthony Sherman in this scenario.

But these Broncos are stout against the run. And sometimes, convention isn’t the best strategy. Here are a few potential individual matchups to consider when the Chiefs have the ball:

Chiefs Right Guard Jon Asamoah vs. Broncos Left Defensive Tackle Kevin Vickerson: Vickerson is ranked as the 42nd best defensive tackle by AdvancedNFLStats.com. By way of comparison, Dontari Poe is ranked 9th. If Asamoah can handle Vickerson, with an occasional double team from Eric Fisher or Sherman, the Chiefs can run Charles and Davis repeatedly on the right side. The benefits here are clear. We eat up the clock. And we run away from Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller, who, by November 17, will likely be back to 2012 form.

Chiefs Receiver Donnie Avery vs. Broncos Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: Rodgers-Cromartie is ranked as the 28th best corner by FootballOutsiders.com. Again, for comparison, the Chiefs Marcus Cooper is 9th, Brandon Flowers is 12th and Sean Smith is 14th. Avery is a smart veteran and is quicker than Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie has just not been good in coverage this year. This disparity is minimized however, in the small spaces of those inside slants that Avery loves to run.

Chiefs Slot Receiver Dexter McCluster vs. Broncos Cornerback Chris Harris: Harris is ranked as the 24th best corner. McCluster seems to get better with each game, as Andy Reid finds better ways to utilize him.

Chiefs Receiver Dwayne Bowe vs. Broncos Cornerback Champ Bailey: Bailey is coming off a serious ankle injury and has just played six quarters of football this year. Historically, he has had some great games against Bowe. Bowe has a 2” height advantage over Bailey and is six years his junior. Some may say that Bailey has lost a step, but he’s one of the savviest corners in the game.

Of these four options, the key matchup is clear as day to me: it’s Bowe vs. Bailey. Here’s a history of Bowe’s games against Bailey and the Broncos (the Broncos acquired Bailey from Washington in 2004), with the numbers signifying catches and yards:

Year

          Game 1

          Game 2

     Year Total

2007

9 / 105

2 / 35

11 / 140

2008

7 / 96

7 / 85

14 / 181

2009

1 / 6

Suspended

1 / 6

2010

13 / 186

0 / 0

13 / 186

2011

2 / 17

6 / 93

8 / 110

2012

4 / 41

Injured

4 / 41

Total

   

51 / 664

Average Yards/Catch

   

13.0

Average/Game

   

5 / 66

The best game for Bailey was the second game of 2010, when he shut Bowe down. But Bowe has also had good games against Bailey, like his six-catch performance in 2011 and most of the games in 2007-2008.

As this season has progressed, Bowe and Alex Smith are getting more comfortable with one another. That means at least two things. First, on the short routes that Smith favors, their timing and route familiarity are becoming sharper. Second, on intermediate and long routes where Bowe looks covered, Smith may give Bowe a chance to make some plays using his size advantage.

If the Smith-to-Bowe connection doesn’t heat up, the Chiefs risk resorting to the one dimensional offense we saw against the Bills and Browns. The Broncos defense will pack the short and intermediate sections of the field and also turn pass rushers Von Miller and Shaun Phillips loose – this in fact, has been every defensive coordinator’s game plan against the Chiefs for the past several games.

If the Smith-to-Bowe connection does heat up, the running game and short and intermediate passing lanes will also open up, and with that combination, the Chiefs can eat up valuable time with long drives. Additionally, Bowe can break one or two passes for a TD or long gain, creating offensive scores which the Chiefs will need to win this game.

The Chiefs are the underdog going into this game. We need an offensive matchup that can give the Chiefs the advantage. Dwayne Bowe vs. Champ Bailey is my key individual match up when the Chiefs have the ball. Addicts, what’s yours?!!

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