Broncos’ ground game offers test to Chiefs run defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning poses the obvious problems to the Chiefs defense.

Manning enters Sunday night’s game holding a 10-1 career record against Kansas City, including 5-0 since joining the AFC West in 2012.

Nov 23, 2014; Denver, CO; Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) prepares to hand off to running back C.J. Anderson (22) against the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2014; Denver, CO; Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) prepares to hand off to running back C.J. Anderson (22) against the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While dealing with Manning presents a challenge, the Chiefs have more to consider with the Broncos appearing to achieve offensive balance after coming off a game with 201 yards rushing.

“They’ve had it in the past, pretty good run team,” coach Andy Reid said. “You’ve got to make sure that you’re obviously ready for both. That’s what you do. They’re going to give you a little of everything, so you better be on your game.”

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton agreed.

“If all we had to do is stop the run this week, we’d feel like, ‘Hey, that’s an easier task not to stop them, but we could focus on it,’” Sutton said. “What Peyton does he doesn’t allow you to focus on just one phase of their game and that’s one of his great strengths.”

Manning will keep a defense on its toes, but the Chiefs must account for second-year running back C.J. Anderson, who gained 167 yards rushing and a touchdown on 27 carries in Week 12.

This is especially true when considering the Chiefs run defense, which ranks 26th in the league (129.4 yards allowed per game), has been gouged in two straight games. Kansas City allowed 204 yards rushing in Week 11 and 179 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Week 12.

The Chiefs didn’t allow a rushing touchdown on the season entering Week 12, but Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray emphatically snapped that streak with two scores, which included a 90-yard touchdown run. Murray finished the game with 112 yards on four carries before leaving with a concussion.

The defensive performance against Oakland didn’t sit well with defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson.

“Definitely upset because that wasn’t us,” Vickerson said. “The good thing about this league is that it’s a week-to-week league. You can come back and get that bad taste out of your mouth by knocking the run game out this week.”

Fixing the deficiencies started in practice, and inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson isn’t panicking over the run defense’s recent performances.

“We had some mishaps last game being in the wrong gap, but that’s easy to fix,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t like we were getting manhandled. We played the wrong gap, wrong technique, and got big plays busted on us. We get that fixed, we’ll be OK.

Johnson adds he’s very familiar with Anderson from playing against him in high school, as both originate from California’s Bay area.

“He’s a good running back,” Johnson said. “He fits what they do really well. They don’t ask him to do nothing that he can’t do. They stick with what he does really well with running the ball downhill. That’s helped them out having more balance.”

The Chiefs can expect to see plenty of Anderson and Juwan Thompson considering Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman (foot) are ruled out.

And the Broncos proved the offense is capable of establishing a running game without the two primary rushers.

“They move the line around and they’re playing well, so it’s going to be definitely a tough one for us up front,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “They’re good backs. Tackling is going to be the key and playing physical up front.”

A possible solution for the Chiefs run defense against Denver and down the stretch is working veteran inside linebacker Joe Mays in the rotation.

Sutton concedes Mays, who returned to the lineup in Week 10 after being activated from injured reserve following wrist surgery, is an option to consider.

“We’ve been trying to work Joe back into the lineup the last three weeks,” Sutton said. “He’s been playing on (special) teams and I think he’s kind of feeling more comfortable. We’re just going to kind of let that play out. It’s a possibility, like I said.”

Ultimately, Sunday night boils down to the battle inside the trenches, as is often the case where winning the line of scrimmage allows either side of the ball to dictate action.

Getting to Manning and containing Denver’s running game will go a long way in determining the outcome.

“Every good team starts up front on the offensive and defensive line,” Howard said. “That’s just been what we’ve been living by. Every week it’s on us up front to control the game.