Last week, Addicts, we discussed what may be the most important individual matchup when the Kansas City Chiefs have the ball against the Denver Broncos defense this Sunday: Dwayne Bowe vs. Champ Bailey. This week’s episode of “As the Bowe Turns” notwithstanding, if Bowe plays, I still think this one is the key offensive matchup for Kansas City. Plus, if ever Dwayne Bowe had extra motivation to prove his worth, now would be a good time.
This week, we’ll consider what the entire NFL world has been waiting for: the Chiefs defense against the Broncos offense.
But first Addicts, a slight tangent. A few weeks ago, I looked at where the Chiefs defense ranked historically. Since the NFL went pass-happy, only the 2000 Baltimore Ravens have a better Points Per Game (PPG) average than this year’s Chiefs, 10.3 PPG to 12.3 PPG. But something told me that wasn’t the full story. Something kept sticking in my mind about these numbers, and here’s what it is: that PPG stat wasn’t factoring in defensive scores, from pick-sixes to fumbles returned for a touchdown. So I went back and recalculated these numbers, subtracting six points for each defensive touchdown scored and subtracting any points scored by opposing special teams, since those scores aren’t the defense’s responsibility. In 2000, the Ravens defense scored just one touchdown and the Ravens’ special teams did not give up any returns for a touchdown. If we subtract six points and re-average their total, the Ravens defense allowed a net total of 9.9 points per game. This year, the Chiefs defense has scored six defensive touchdowns, and have not given up a special teams TD. If we apply the same formula, the Chiefs defense is averaging a net total of 8.3 points per game. In other words, this Chiefs defense is performing better than the 2000 Ravens defense that turned them into Super Bowl champions.
This tangent is important. Because it may be the key to victory this Sunday at Sports Authority Field.
There are a host of individual matchups to watch this Sunday, when the Chiefs defense is on the field. Here’s a sampling:
Chiefs Nose Guard Dontari Poe vs. Broncos Center Manny Ramirez: Ramirez is a guard who was forced into center duty when starter J.D. Walton went down with an injury. He and Peyton Manning got off to a rough start, with two fumbled snaps at the beginning of the year. Ramirez is coming off of a solid game against the San Diego Chargers but he’s not an elite center by any means. Meanwhile, Poe has been resting, healing, fueling up and building that internal fire over the bye week. If Poe continue to crush the pocket, that leaves open the door for…
Chiefs Outside Linebacker Tamba Hali vs. Broncos Left Tackle Chris Clark: Clark may be the weakest link on the Broncos hurting offensive line. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Clark gave up two sacks and four hits on Manning to the Colts’ Robert Mathis. He did not perform well and gave up another sack against the Chargers last week. The Broncos will likely have to double team Hali with a running back, which paves the way for…
Chiefs Outside Linebacker Justin Houston vs. Broncos Right Tackle Orlando Franklin: Houston will be one-on-one against the veteran Franklin all day. Franklin got dominated by San Diego and gave up a sack last week. Look for Manning’s offense to revolve around quick, short throws with the occasional deep timing pattern, which leads to…
Chiefs Cornerbacks Sean Smith, Brandon Flowers and Marcus Cooper vs. Broncos Receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker: Thomas has 55 catches for 793 yards and 9 touchdowns; Welker has 53 catches for 576 yards and 9 touchdowns; and Decker has 49 catches for 721 yards and 3 touchdowns. Smith, Flowers and Cooper have to play their most physical game of the season to disrupt the Broncos’ routes and timing. The Chiefs trio will try to keep these receivers in front of them, since they won’t have much help deep, because one of the most dangerous matchups on Sunday will be…
Chiefs Safety Eric Berry or Husain Abdullah vs. Broncos Tight End Julius Thomas: Julius Thomas is a real world threat. He has 42 catches for 547 yards and 9 touchdowns, including a 74 yard catch and run last week on the opening drive against the San Diego Chargers. He goes 6’5” and presents a tough matchup for the Chiefs. When Thomas is on the field with Demaryius Thomas, Welker and Decker, coverage will fall to a safety. That may mean Husain Abdullah or Eric Berry.
The book on the Broncos is to pressure Manning and physically dominate their receivers at the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt the timing that Manning has with his receivers. The Broncos have four superb receivers and often play them at the same time. That means the Chiefs need five defenders to cover these four, including a safety over the top. That leaves six Chiefs defenders against the Broncos offensive line and a running back.
In order to shift the odds more in our favor, I think the key matchup will be Justin Houston against Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin. The Broncos may try to continue their spread offense and send both their running back and tight end on receiving routes. But I think Hali will repeatedly crush Chris Clark, forcing the Broncos to keep a running back in. If Houston can repeatedly beat Franklin as well early in the game, it’ll force the Broncos to either keep Julius Thomas in, or completely change their offense.
That scenario opens the door for tighter coverage by the Chiefs, purely from a numbers perspective. If the Chiefs front five of Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito, Tyson Jackson, Hali and Houston can occupy eight Broncos (the five offensive linemen, a running back, a tight end, and Manning), that allows Akeem Jordan and Derrick Johnson to cover the run and short passes; Cooper, Flowers and Smith to stay on the Broncos three receivers; and Berry roaming the deep middle. For Bob Sutton, this setup is a recipe for aggressive blitzing from Berry or Johnson, or even the occasional corner.
With this pressure, we return to our tangent. The Chiefs defense will need to score points on Sunday in order to win. If Hali and Houston are successful, we may see that sight we Addicts love to see, and frankly, will need to see this Sunday night: pressure on Manning that impacts the trajectory of the ball, leaving fluttering, wide open interceptions for our linebackers and safeties. Or even better, the strip-sack.
It all starts with Justin Houston however. If he can force the Broncos to double team him, the Chiefs can slow down Manning’s offense and win this divisional battle.
Addicts which matchup do you think will turn the game when the Chiefs defense is on the field?!!