After getting off to a great 6-0 start, the Broncos lost their mojo and dropped 4 games, including a costly game to rival San Diego. On Thanksgiving night, the Broncos did exactly what they needed to do; not only to beat the New York Giants, but to set the tone for how to play the season out.
I'd like to think the Broncos took a page from MHR Chalk Talk last week, and made a decision to play more physical ball while letting the precision wait a little longer. I'm certain that Coach McDaniels has better things to do than to listen to advice from folks outside of his coaching circle, but he did place an emphaisis on more physical ball for the Giants game. It not only worked, but it worked out better than our game plans for the first 6 victories. Why? Because we played a dominating style of football instead of a finesse style, and it worked to a tee.
There's nothing wrong with finesse. But a team needs time to learn a new system before it can take the step to execute more complex plays. Right now, Denver needs to execute the basics better than the bad guys, and punch other teams in the gut. That is just what Denver did, and what they need to do moving forward.
Let's look at the keys to the game for last week.
First, I wrote that the OL needed to protect Kyle Orton. The Giants have always been a team that want to shut down the passing game with pressure from the front more than relying on elite coverage from defensive backs. Not only did the OL did a good job of keeping Orton clean, they opened up running lanes for the Denver offense.
The second key for Denver was to run the ball more, and to do so effectively. A good running game takes pressure of the QB, controls the clock, and cuts down on turnovers. It is the prime key for Denver for the rest of the season. When Denver runs the ball well, they win games. When opponents can make Denver one dimensional, Denver will struggle. Denver did this.
Last, Denver needed a mistake free game. Denver had to settle for two FGs instead of TDs on their first two drives because of penalties, and this led to a now infamous, profanity laden conference on the sidelines. But two things happened at that point. First, Denver got the focus they needed. Second, Denver was playing "domineering" football to such an extent that they left 8 points on the field in those two drives and it didn't matter. Domineering football is just what this team needs.
For the Giants, all they really had to do to win this game was to win in the trenches. Denver's offensive and defensive lines pushed the Giants all over the field. Denver took that key away right away.
Next, the Giants needed to keep Denver from the ealry lead. But from the start of the game, it was clear that Denver wasn't going to settle for a war of field position and winning a close game. Denver took the early lead.
Finally, I wrote that the Giants needed to run the ball on Denver for match-up reasons. Denver's run defense was spectacular. Denver made it look as if the Giants could do nothing right.
My point is that Denver didn't win this game with precision execution of flashy sreen plays, nor with a great amount of trickery on the defense. Denver out executed opponents by being more physical. We didn't play "keep the game close" careful football, we played to dominate, intimidate, and crush. Our guys had it in them, and they proved it. Both our players and our head coach are emotional beings, and sometimes it is ok to play a little more with emotional intensity than cold Xs and Os.
Now what about the Chiefs? This is a game Denver should dominate. The Chiefs are having a rough season so far in almost any measurement. First, the bad news for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are 26th in scoring, 30th in yards, 22nd in rushing, and 26th in passing. The number one reason (in my opinion) for the poor offensive perfomance of this team is the offensive line. Gone are the stars of yesteryear's Chiefs OL. The OL can't protect QB Matt Cassel, and they allow him to be sacked on a regular basis. in fact, they botched two snaps to the QB in their last game, missing the QB in the shotgun formation (where the QB is further back from the line).
On defense, things aren't any better. KC is 28th in points allowed, 30th in yards allowed, 27th in stopping the run, and 30th in stopping the pass.
In other words, KC is in the bottom 10 teams in every vital stat, and in the bottom seven teams in 7 out of those 8 stats. Overall, the Chiefs are ranked 26th in the League based on wins and tie-break.
Do the Chiefs have any good news going into this game? They do, and if you don't believe me, you can drop the ball like the Pittsburgh Steelers did in their loss to the Chiefs two games ago.
First, the Chiefs have a terrific RB in Jamaal Charles. He has shown unreal speed, and is a definate threat when he gets to the edges. Denver could challenge the edges with a traditional 3-4 defense, but in the 5-2 look the OLB/DEs are more likely to be plugging gaps than containing the outside. Expect Denver to respect Jammal by either zoning an OLB wide or placing a LB in man coverage. Both safeties will be watching for wide runs as well.
Jamaal is averaging over 5 yards a carry (as he did last year), and now that he is the starter (with Larry Johnson booted from the team), the Chief's may start buidling an offense around him down the road. Did I mention that Jamaal also has great hands and can catch what is thrown his way? Jamaal 's weakspot (according to many) is that he may be fumble prone. I don't really know if this is fair. At 22 years of age, Jamaal has fumbled the ball twice this year (at key moments), but has also touched the ball 78 times rushing and 26 times receiving. He is only in his second year too. I don't think protecting the ball is as bad as the media has made the issue out to be.
The other bright spot for the offense is Chris Chambers at WR. Cassel may not get protection from his line, and his weapons may not have a lot of depth, but Chris Chambers is his number one target and Chambers seems to have a good chemistry with the QB. These are the two players I respect the most on the Chiefs offense, and I fully expect that Denver will work on countering these two.
And then there is the "curse". Denver can't seem to win in KC in December. I'm not a superstitous guy, but the curse shouldn't be a factor for some very logical reasons. First, the two teams aren't the same teams they were in past years. In fact, not even last year. Both teams feature new head coaches, new offensive and defensive coordinators, new managers, and new QBs. In fact, looking over the Chiefs roster, I was surprised by how many names were different from just last year.
If Denver is going to lose this game, it will be because they take it for granted. KC is fully capable of keeping a game close, then gong for the win at the end. Denver needs to avoid falling into the trap that Pittsburgh did, and needs to dominate from the start.
Keys to the Game
- Denver needs to guard against Jamaal Charles. Yes, he can average over 5 yards a carry. Yes, he can catch out of the backfield. And yes, he is a return threat in special teams. He can also go down field for deeps passes (he beat Cromartie for a deep pass last week). But he is light at 5-11, 199 LBs. With the other RBs on the team limited or out of practice, Jamaal may take a lot of hits. Denver needs to contain Jamaal, and they need to hit him any chance that they get.
- Another way to deal with Jamaal is to get an early lead and force the Chiefs to throw. I'll take Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman over Chris Chambers anyday.
- Run the ball. This takes the Chiefs crowd out of the game and keeps Jamaal Charles off the field. The Chiefs don't have a fast LB corps, so sprinkling in some screens and shovel passes to the edges may spread the defense wide to allow later shots at the interior.
- Do whatever it takes to protect your QB. Short, quick passes would be good (and would negate the big plays that Denver's secondary can make). Running the ball with Jammal would be good too. The depth at WR can't match the Denver depth at CB, so keep formations down to 1 or 2 receivers and add protection with TEs and a FB.
- While Jamaal needs to be a factor, try rotating the runs. Clearly, I think this kid is the weapon that KC needs, but if he is overused, he's going to get hurt. If he is kept fresh, he may get enough big plays to keep the game close.
- Come into the game fired up, and fire up the fans. I read an article this week (at NFL.com) that mentioned that KC hasn't been playing with a lot of fire. This happened to Denver, and Brian Dawkins hosted a players-only meeting to straighten things out. It worked. But the fans need to be fired up too. Denver makes mistakes and gets penalties, and isn't fully on the same page on offense at times. Loud crowd noise at the right moment should help the KC defense. Players ought to encourage the fans to get loud, and should do a little chest thumping when a play goes well for KC. Arrowhead hasn't been kind to Denver, and the fans in KC should keep it that way.
Before the season, I wrote that I expected the Raiders to stay in the basement, the Chiefs and Brancos to improve slightly, and the Chargers to lose a little luster. The Raiders are the same team that they have been for years, unable to approach even .500, while the Chargers remain contenders, but don't stand out in the Conference.
However, while the Broncos have improved from last year, the Chiefs are having a hard time keeping up. In fact, they are only one spot ahead of the Raiders in the League rankings. Denver had at least as many changes as the Chiefs did, so what is the problem?
I agree with our friends at Arrowhead Pride. Too many good players are gone (including a key defensive lineman, two great offensive linemen, and what should be a future HOF TE), and too few good players have stepped in. Age remains an issue as well. The team needs an injection of youth, and a long term, off-season game plan to start building up. The team needs a combination of good FA moves or trades (getting Chambers from SD was a good move in my opinion), as well as using their position in the draft to get more players that can contribute over time.
I mean no disrespect to the Chiefs fans when I write that I have a hard time seeing the Broncos dropping this game. However, Denver seems to get surprised year after year in KC, so KC has some hope.
My hope is that Denver doesn't just win this game, but makes another statement like they did last week against the Giants. Denver must win the "easy" games against KC and Oak (2 against KC), and a win against PHI would go a long ways. INDY still looks like a bridge too far. We also need to pull for all of SD's opponents from here on out.
A loss on Sunday would put a serious crimp in the Broncos playoff hopes (Denver is top wildcard at this point). A win keeps a division playoff spot in sight. Every game from here on out is a big game. I think Denver can measure up.
(By the way, for those attending the game: There used to be a great place to eat called Union Station in KC. It was the sight of a major gangland massacre back in days of Machine Gun Kelly, Frank Nitti and Baby Face Nelson. If the place is still there, they used to have a seafood buffet that included everything from whole lobster to smoked eel, oysters, and lox. Not far away was a Japanese place called The Hibachi. If they are still there, you can't go wrong with either one. Not far from the stadium, in Independence, is a place called Stephenson's. Presidents have eaten there with good reason, and it is worth a visit as well. You used to get free samples of apple cider there, and the food is awesome. Perhaps a KC fan can chime in to tell us if those places are still around).