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IN DENVER BRONCO PRE-GAME ANALYSIS
One theme keeps coming up with the Denver fan base. When Denver wins (as against the Jets), the fans start talking about deep playoff runs. When Denver loses (as against the Raiders), the fans talk about how terrible this team is.
At this point in the season we are heading into the fourth quarter. Denver has all but locked up a playoff spot, and it is better than a wildcard. Barring a major meltdown, Denver will be the fourth seed this year. Denver has overcome the folly of last season, and has accomplished this task with a very young team. They are also going to get some veterans back in time to help the team peak at the end of the season. That's right folks; Denver has 'em right were we want 'em.
If the Chargers lose the Thursday night game (not likely), and the Broncos win, the Broncos are in the playoffs.
Inconsistent? Yes. That's the price of a young team. But the team is growing fast. The best measure of a young team isn't the games that they lose (inconsistent young teams will lose to good and bad teams) but who they beat. And so far, Denver has beaten every team that they have played that is ranked ahead of them in the League (#5 Bucs, #6 Falcons, #10 Jets). Against KC at home, Denver can help to wipe away the memory of losing to a "lesser" team, and get their young minds focused on being a real, elite team instead of a growing team.
How will they do this? More below the fold...
Denver plays two very different ways against opponents.
When they play weaker teams, they get overly confident. They trust the DBs, and rush only three players. They rely entirely on Jay Cutler, and play a spread offense. Not only do they run a spread offense, but they play vertical, going deep too often. They forget to use the RBs.
Against stronger opponents they play a better game. They switch from the spread offense to the west coast. They throw shorter passes. They incorporate the running game. They play a 4-3, and rush all four (instead of a 3-4, and holding back a LB).
KC may be seen as a weaker team, but they beat Denver earlier this year. Perhaps the coaches have noticed the differences in playcalling between the two types of teams, and will call this game as if it is against a strong team. Denver is at home, and not at Arrowhead (which does a great job with homefield advantage).
One of the advantages an offense can bring to a game is a scrambling QB. Defenses have enough men on the field to cover RBs and receivers, but can't really waste a player covering a QB. When that QB can run really well, a defense can give up major plays, or (at the very least) a lot of first downs.
The biggest disadvantage of running a QB is the potential for injury. Another disadvantage is that only rare, physical specimens can both run and throw ball. But when it happens, defenses need to adjust.
Sometimes a player is assigned to watch and shadow the QB. This is called a "spy". While it stops the QB from rushing, it also takes a defensive player out of plays more often than the QB will actually become mobile. It also sets defenses up to fall for several screen options.
Thigpen is a scrambler, and the bright spot on an otherwise unfortunate team. Denver is aware of what he can do, and will gameplan accordingly.
Denver will see some shuffling at LB. I know we love Larsen, but his hip is still iffy after the Jets game, so he likely won't start at MLB. Webster will likely return to MLB. The return of DJ Williams is still up in the air, but Denver has proven that the back-ups at the OLB positions are up to the task. (Look for a story very soon on my take on the situation at LB for Denver).
It is my opinion that Woodyard looks terrific, but I think DJ can stop the run better, and can make some big plays. I would like to see a way to work in Woodyard, Larsen, and Winborn (without moving to a 3-4, because we don't have the defensive line). Moving Webster out of the line-up might be a start, as well as not bringing back Boss next year. But DJ needs to say.
The real news in terms of shuffling LBs isn't on the Broncos squad though. Here is an excellent write-up from a member of Arrowhead Pride about how much trouble the Chiefs are in at LB, and the shifting of LBs for this game and the remainder of the season.
The Return of the King
There have been some comments in the threads at MHR about how well Bly has looked the last couple of games. In my opinion, Bly has looked better because we are finally playing two safeties deep (I will be putting up a story on this issue in the next few days). Bailey and Bly are #1 and #2 in interceptions in the League since 1991, but both have looked ordinary the last two years in Denver without safety support and with poor pass rushing.
The king I'm refering to though is not Bly. Bailey's return (he insists he will be back this week) shuts down half of the field, and takes a receiver out of the game. QBs rarely test Bailey, and when they do, they get burned for an INT an awful lot of the time. Having Bailey back is a must if we are going to peak going into the playoffs.
The Secret Service
Put me on the record. The Denver offensive line is the best in the business, and looks like the classic Broncos offensive lines we've admired over the years. In fact, even better. Denver's offensive line is protecting Cutler at a phenominal rate.
Clady (LT) isn't even receiving double team assistance, which is rare for a rookie. He is deserving of a pro bowl trip, and should be considered for rookie of the year. On the other side, Harris isn't a rookie, but is playing in his first full year. Like Clady, he is nearly perfect in execution. These two are going to be in Denver for years to come.
Wiegmann has stepped in to cover for Nalen (who has missed his second season now), and the offensive line hasn't suffered an iota. In fact, I believe Nalen will retire at the end of the season, and Wiegmann will stay on. Wiegmann's only hit is his age, but he should be solid for at least another year or two. Hamilton and Kuper are aslo playing at an elite level at guard.
The biggest knock on the offensive line is whether or not they can support the running game. With running calls being infrequent, it was tough to tell. Against Atlanta and the Jets, we got our answer. 7th round FB Hillis played as the fifth string RB against the Jets, and tore them to shreds.
Imagine what a power runner like Hillis can do to a dysfunctional LB corps like the one KC has.
Denver should get the playcalling right for this game. The Chiefs play a cover two, and Cutler should be in positions to use his TEs in the seams and to take his WRs underneath the coverage. Against the suspect KC LB corps, Denver can choose to shoot Hillis up the gut, or use any of the other RBs on sweeps and screens to the edges. This is a simple plan, what Denver does best, and is tailor made to beat the Chiefs.
But if Denver comes out throwing early and often, forgets the running game, and goes deep too often, KC will use their prowess at winning the turnover war (they are pretty good at picks) to play to Denver's weakness (losing game where turnovers ar an issue).
Keys to the Game -
- Limit turnovers
- Run the ball
- On pass plays, just give what the defense gives you (don't go for the win; just move the darned chains)
- Spread the field horizontaly. Give Thigpen a chance at a few first downs.
- Flowers (CB) is coming off an injury, and will be lined against Royal, who has dangerous agility to shake a CB. Make sure he plays off, and make sure he has free safety support.
- Use Gonazales as an extra reciever. Denver's pass rushing is improving, but still not solid. You don't need the extra protection for the mobile QB. You do need the safety valve with Bailey and Bly out there.
I can't see Denver losing this game. Both teams are young, but Denver seems to be moving forward, while KC's record is about as bad as it gets. Denver has been inconsistent, while KC is consistently bad.
Wanting to give his team confidence moving towards the playoffs, and wanting to erase the bad taste of losing to KC earlier in the season, the coaches may be tempted to make this game a blow out. I hope that isn't the case. The way to beat this team is the same way we have won games against the Jets, the Bucs, and the Falcons. If we play a careful game, we will rack up the points and get the blowout. If we try too hard to get the win early by throwing the deep bombs (as against Oakland), we will pay for it.
We will win in a shootout if we don't engage in a shootout. Does that make sense?