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IN DENVER BRONCO PRE-GAME ANALYSIS
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Denver comes into this feeling like they are on top of the world. They are already 3-0, and now face a division opponent that is 0-3. With a win, Denver will have scored at least one win against each AFC West rival. For the playoff race, this means that Denver can do no worse than tie if a tiebreaker comes down to intra-division records.
Denver may also be licking their lips in anticipation for the game. While KC is a difficult venue for the Broncos to play in, injuries and uncertainty plauge the Chiefs. Huard is taking the helm at QB from Thigpen, and LB Edwards is out with an injury. Surtain (CB) is questionable. A 4-0 start would be great for the Broncos, but it would be foolish to assume that the game is already over.
This is a game that Denver can really use. Setting aside the the obvious idea that Denver would like to extend the winning streak to 4-0, Denver has an opportunity to try out some tweaks that may benefit them in future games. For example, because the KC pass game is in trouble, Denver should be able to try out different plans to stop KC RB Johnson. At the same time, they don't want to take this game for granted.
The KC Offense
The first thing that a fan watching the game should know about the offense is the state of the KC QB situation. Croyle won't be returning until Oct, and Thigpen has just lost the starting job to Huard. This is the third QB in as many games for KC.
Teams have been keeping up with the Broncos scoring factory by airing out the ball. But KC will have a hard time doing this with a third string QB.
The second thing that fans should know about is where the power lies on the KC offense. KC's two best options are at RB (Johnson) and TE (Gonzales). While Gonzales isn't the threat that he used to be, he is an experienced veteran that can take advantage of a misstep by a LOLB. Johnson has a nice blend of power and quickness, and can cause problems for the Broncos if they can't stop the run.
The KC Defense
Here again, the situation for KC doesn't look good. Many football watchers would agree that KC's top two players on defense are Surtain (CB) and Edwards (MLB). Edwards is out, and Surtain is questionable.
So far, the defense has been the better unit for KC. Can it hold up to the League's number one offensive attack though?
The Denver Offense
Starting his second full season, Cutler has seen the best CB tandems in the League. Without his number 1 WR, he shredded DeAngelo Hall with rookie Eddie Royal, and then Marshall returned for a devestating one two punch.
Not only is Cutler playing like a pro-bowler, but Marshall and Royal have been deadly against opposing secondaries. Denver can throw in slot receiver Stokley, or any of three elite TEs as well. In short, the Denver pass game looks legendary already.
Denver can also rack up YPCs that would make any defensive coordinator cry. So far though, Denver has limited the use of their runners, except on short yardage (and even prefer to pass then).
The real heros of the offense are the front five. While Nalen (OC) moves to injured reserve (and probable retirement), Denver just keeps chugging along. Rookie LT Clady and RT Harris (in his first year after an injury plauged rookie season) have kept Cutler untouched in the first three games (a sack is on the books, but as a statistical anomoly).
The Denver Defense
This is the most confusing element of the game. Denver's vaunted secondary has been terrible. While the offense has been busy racking up the points, the defense has allowed opposing teams to do the same. Why is this?
Denver's pass rush is non-existent. The longer that a WR duels with a CB, the better the chances for the WR. Denver just isn't getting any push with the front four. Denver seems to be worried about blitzing, which would then weaken a suspect run defense. So far, Denver has done ok keeping opponents from running, but at a heavy cost in the passing game.
Keeping a safety in the box also makes it hard for the CBs to take the kind of chances they need to get INTs and to break up passes. CBs are being forced to allow catches, and go for the tackle because they often have only one SAF deep (watch for an upcoming article on this issue from Styg).
In an attempt to disguise "the fourth rusher", Denver tried out a 3-4 formation against the Saints for half of a game. Head Coach Shanahan says the experiment isn't done. (Again, watch for an upcoming article from Styg, who predicted such a move in an e-mail to me).
Adjustments For Each Team
Despite the lack of Denver's pass rush, KC does not want to throw the ball. A third string QB throwing the ball against the likes of Bailey and Bly is suicide, especially when you have Johnson to run the ball against a suspect run defense. Not only that, but running the ball keeps the Denver offense off of the field.
That may sound a little backwards. Most teams might enjoy a shoot out with Denver. Rivers and Brees kept their team in the games until the last minute didn't they? But the state of the KC offense doesn't allow for this kind of gamble. KC is early in a mutli-year rebuilding plan. They just had a good draft, and look to have some high picks early next year. For now, they may have to settle for pounding the ball and hoping for the best.
What else is backwards? I've been advocating that Denver mix up the run and pass more; play a more balanced game. But KC is a different animal. KC shouldn't be able to keep up in a shoot out, and Denver might as well let Jay Cutler continue to develop his skills as an elite passer, while giving more experience to youngsters Marshall and Royal.
Game Planning - KC
KC should pound the ball up the middle. Denver's LBs are quick enough to stuff most runs to the edges. A constant assult on the middle of the Denver defense may not get many yards, but it should wear down Denver enough to pick up yards late in the game. KC should also limit passes to infrequent, short, high percentage passes, probably to the outside to spread the defense for the run game.
This makes sense if Denver is playing 4-3, but even more so in a 3-4 (when pounding the center is the name of the game for an offense).
On defense, KC has few options. If they double cover Marshall and Royal (no NFL level coordinator would even think of it), Denver just trots out slot Stokely, or throws to any of a number of TEs. Cover deep, and Denver plays the short hooks and curls they devestated Oakland with.
In part two, we'll take a deeper look at the game, including system match-ups and game planning for Denver.