Offensive, defensive and special teams keys of the Kansas City Chiefs against the Denver Broncos.
Last week, the young and inexperienced Chiefs offensive line had their hands full as they tried to block the Houston Texans pass rush, led by All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt.
But despite the continuous pressure from Watt, the Chiefs pass protection was good enough to allow Alex Smith time to throw three touchdown passes while being sacked twice.
In Thursday night’s game against Denver, the Chiefs face a pass rush that could potentially be more dangerous than the Texans.
With defensive end DeMarcus Ware and outside linebacker Von Miller, the Broncos can bring pressure from both edges and that’s going to put the spotlight again on tackles Donald Stephenson, Jah Reid and/or Eric Fisher.
Ware comes into the game with 128 career sacks in 158 games, with 34 forced fumbles. Miller has played 57 games with the Broncos, with 49 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. With 177 sacks coming off the left and right, that’s going to be quite a chore for the blockers on both sides.
A Chiefs victory will come only if they can allow Smith time to throw, especially downfield.
Whether he connects on the long ball, the threat opens up in the intermediate routes, especially for tight end Travis Kelce. Smith can throw those balls only if he’s vertical, and not horizontal.
In last Sunday’s regular-season opener, the Chiefs had trouble handling Houston wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Nate Washington. It was part of an offensive attack that had limited success with quarterback Brian Hoyer at the controls. Hopkins and Washington combined to catch 15 balls for 203 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Thursday night it will be Peyton Manning throwing the passes and it will be wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as the targets.
Against Baltimore in the Broncos opener, Thomas and Sanders caught 15 passes for only 125 yards and no touchdowns. That was 15 of the 24 Denver catches and Thomas-Sanders were targeted by Manning on 23 of 40 passing attempts.
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming will have their hands full with those two receivers that Manning will spy first from the pocket. Thomas and Sanders are a significant upgrade in talent from Hopkins and Washington.
Do not let the lack of big plays from those two against the Ravens create the impression they can’t go deep. They can and they will. Peters, Gaines and Fleming must neutralize any possible damage.
After a strong performance in the kicking game against Houston, the Chiefs special teams must once again provide plays that will allow them to get an edge on field position against the Broncos.
The Chiefs hit Denver with a kickoff return score in 2013 when Knile Davis went 108 yards for a touchdown. They haven’t dented the Broncos for a punt return score since Dante Hall did it October 2003 when he ran 93 yards for a touchdown.
Last week against the Texans, De’Anthony Thomas averaged 16.2 yards on five punt returns. Thomas ranks No. 5 in the league after the first week of games.
Despite a division winning performance last season, the Broncos had problems on special teams; they finished No. 24 in kickoff coverage and No. 29 in punt coverage.
Denver kicker Brandon McManus owns a powerful leg, kicking the ball out of the end zone on five of six kickoffs against Baltimore. He also hit all four of his field goal attempts, including kicks of 57 and 56 yards. McManus is a powerful force and Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos must be able to match him in accuracy and length.
Then, there are the Colquitt brothers, Dustin for the Chiefs and Britton for the Broncos.
Although Dustin has been doing it longer than his younger brother, their career numbers are very similar: punting average is 44.6 yards for Dustin and 45.6 yards for Britton and net punting average is 39.2 yards for the older brother and 39.1 yards for the Broncos foot.
Dustin should have the edge given that Britton loses the mile high advantage of Denver, plus the Chiefs punter knows the winds of Arrowhead Stadium. Early weather reports indicate it may be a windy Thursday night at the Truman Sports Complex.