KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Looking at the Denver Broncos from the viewpoint of the Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid reveals a familiar image.
“They’re some similarities,” Reid said, “especially statistically there are some similarities in the areas offensively and defensively I would say.”
The Chiefs and Broncos share very similar stories through the first 10 games of the season. Both teams stand 7-3 in the AFC West, tied for second behind the Oakland Raiders. Each team wins with defense, holding the opposition to fewer than 19 points game. Both teams share similar offensive production, which struggles at times.
There are many similarities, but the subtle differences may account for the difference when the two teams meet Sunday night in Denver for a 7:30 p.m. before a national TV audience. The Chiefs deploy a bend-but-don’t-break defense, adapting week-to-week and play-by-play to fit their opponent. The Broncos use speed on defense to rush the passer and pursue the ball.
Attacking the Broncos defense begins in the trenches with the offensive line blocking a front seven led by linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and a defensive end Derek Wolfe.
Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said the defensive front poses a challenge with both their speed and positional depth.
“They’re extremely fast,” Schwartz said. “They can do things that other guys just can’t do in terms of pass rush moves or scheme-wise where they can kind of make up for things with speed.”
Schwartz said the offensive line must stay assignment strong to defend against the Broncos pass rush.
“I think the key for guys that go against them is to trust your fundamentals and your technique,” Schwartz said.
In the secondary, former Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Aqib Talib leads a hard-hitting pass defense that focus on denying big plays and forcing turnovers.
Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said he and his pass-catching teammates expect to get hit when the ball comes their way.
“They’re a very challenging secondary, guys who hard-nosed, ballhawks,” Conley said. “They always have people around the ball.”
The Broncos speed and aggression in the secondary places a premium on well-executed passes and creating space.
“There hasn’t been many plays made on them this year where there wasn’t a guy there,” Conley said. “There’s a lot of tight window throws that are made, and there’s always going to be pressure.”
The team believes that it can protect Alex Smith and that wide receivers including Conley and Tyreek Hill along with tight end Travis Kelce can find holes in the Denver defense.
“Obviously you have to see what the defense is doing, but you’re in attack mode always,” Conley said. “Attack and react.”
The Chiefs face another hurdle on the injury front. The Broncos enter the game off a bye week, allowing their team time to heal and entering with an intact lineup. The Chiefs, however, already know they will lineup without linebacker Dee Ford (hamstring), tied for the NFL lead in sacks, as well as defensive end Jaye Howard (hip).
Linebacker Derrick Johnson (Achilles) and cornerback Marcus Peters appear set to play through their injuries, however the status of defensive tackle Dontari Poe (back) and cornerback Steven Nelson (neck) remain in greater doubt.
The Chiefs also carry plenty of primetime struggles into Sunday’s NFL spotlight. The Chiefs under Reid hold a 2-6 record in primetime games, including a 43-14 humiliation at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers in week four.
Denver delivered three of those six losses to the Chiefs. Kansas City recorded wins in just four of the 11 primetime games between the two teams. The last the Chiefs won a night game in Denver, Joe Montana led a come-from-behind victory in 1994.
The history combined with the race for the AFC West, the battle for playoff position and the a rivalry with the defending Super Bowl champs should be all the motivation Reid’s team needs.
“They’re fired up to play,” Reid said.