Well, the Broncos got the win at San Diego, but it was not the strongest outing by Denver. With John Fox recovering from heart surgery and the team coming back from a bye, Jack Del Rio took the helm. The game started strong, but the Broncos had to grind out the win in the second half. Unfortunately, many fans like me outside of Colorado missed much of the first quarter thanks to the ratbirds not being able to knock down a pass at the end of regulation. Fortunately, I was able to listen to Dave and Ed until the game finally got on the TV. The Chargers got the ball first and was forced to punt after three plays. There was no punt however since Eric Weddle got the first down on a fake. Fortunately for the defense, the Chargers were unable to capitalize on the play (got flagged for holding on Mathews' long run) and punted later on the first drive. The Broncos took over at the 15. Knowshon Moreno ran for no gain then received a pass for 11 yards. On the third play, Peyton Manning threw to Julius Thomas. Thomas took the pass up the sideline for a 74 yard TD. The Chargers had plenty of chances to knock him out, but seemed to just give up on the play. Julius kept running and scored.
San Diego answered with a FG on their next drive and after two Denver drives and a San Diego drive led to punts, the Chargers kicked another FG. Manning and company then went 80 yards for a TD. Nick Novak missed a FG and the Broncos took advantage with another drive for a TD and a 21-6 lead at half time. In the third quarter, the game looked like the Broncos would run away with the game after another TD to start the third, but all of that changed when Manning was sacked and fumbled at his own 11. Philip Rivers took advantage with a TD to Danny Woodhead. After a few more punts were exchanged, the Chargers drove 60 yards for a TD to make the score 28-20. Thankfully the defense came through with forcing punts and the offense kept the chains and clock moving to lock up the win.
This game showed the lowest point total that the defense gave up (20, but only 13 were truly given up) and this was the lowest point total for the offense (28). Denver had many of their offensive drives start on their own 20 or deeper. Trindon Holliday was not too sharp with a bobbled punt and some poor kickoff returns short of the 20. Peyton Manning had a good game with over 300 yards and four TDs, but was hit way much more than what any Broncos fan wants to see. At the end of the game, he was hit low by Corey Liuget which led to him hobbling. Peyton will be playing Sunday night, but was quite a scare. Defensively, the Broncos were solid and was decent with the pass rush. They netted four sacks (Chargers gave up only 12 the entire season before Sunday), kept Rivers to 218 yards in the air and did not give up a 100 yard rusher. Offensively, Denver had some great moments like Demaryius Thomas catching 3TD passes and Moreno's rushing and receiving, but had some not so great moments with too many three-and-outs, dropped passes and some bad play calling (Manning's roll-out/fumble). While it is not the best effort by the Broncos, it's always a difficult task to get a win on the road against a decent team as well as a division rival. Denver needed a game like this to learn to grind out wins when the high-octane offense sputters. Considering the team coming off the bye week and Fox's heart issues, this could have easily gone down as a loss. The game also marked the 300th win for the Broncos under the ownership of Pat Bowlen. That is very impressive for an organization to achieve that kind of mark in under 30 years. Congrats to Mr. Bowlen for the 300th win and thank you for making the Broncos the great organization that it is.
And now for discussing the Chiefs. As we all know and what the visitors from Arrowhead Pride remind us about is the Chiefs are 9-0 and coming into Denver. The NFL was so excited about a 9-0 team playing an 8-1 team who also happen to be division rivals this late in the season that they strong-armed CBS and flexed the game to NBC. Now the entire country gets to watch this epic battle between two bitter AFC West rivals. Thanks to Andy Reid and a lifetime of lucky breaks, bounces and injuries to opposing starting QBs the Chiefs are undefeated. While they have not incurred a loss yet, they are far from "perfect" and they will be well-rested since they had a bye this past week.
On offense, they are led by quarterback Alex Smith who is very careful with the football, doesn't air it out often and is a running threat. Their best player on offense is Jamaal Charles who accounts for most of the Chiefs offensive output. Most of the games that I have watched of Kansas City's offense feature Charles rushing on all sides of the line and catching passes on either screens or check-downs from Smith. KC does have some talent at WR with Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery, but most of the receptions are short yardage. Dexter McCluster also comes in to receive passes as well as being a punt return threat.
Defensively, the Chiefs are one of the best in the NFL. They have some very good pass rushers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, a solid LB in Derrick Johnson and a talented group of DBs led by Brandon Flowers. The defense leads the league in sacks and has 6 TDs scored by the defense. There are some weaknesses with this group with being ranked in the 20's against the run. The Buffalo Bills racked up a ton of yards on the ground against KC with Spiller and Jackson in their last game before the bye.
As for special teams, the Chiefs are solid with Ryan Succop at kicker and Dustin Colquitt punting. They use McCluster on punt returns and Demps on kickoffs. Their return game is dangerous so don't be surprised if Britton Colquitt keeps kicking away from McCluster and Matt Prater kicks deep enough to prevent any kickoff returns.
Overall the key to defeating the Chiefs and letting the 1972 Dolphins open the champagne bottles another year is simple. Don't turn the ball over and make their offense drive long distances to score. Many of KC's offensive possessions were on short fields. For Denver offensively, they may have to keep a TE to help block against Hali and go with more heavy blocking sets. Knowshon Moreno has historically burned the Chiefs in the past with his solid rushing and receiving out of the backfield so don't be surprised if the Broncos try to run the ball more since the middle of the Chief defense is susceptible to giving up big gains. Manny Ramirez, Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez will be called on regularly to get some holes blown open. As far as passing, Peyton Manning will need to use quick throws to negate their pass rush. The WRs will have to play tough to get the ball, but they could have some success in the middle of the field and against Sean Smith. Smith gave up a long TD against the Bills, but also had an early Christmas present of a pick that he returned 100 yards for a TD.
Defensively, the Broncos will need to get pressure on Alex Smith by not giving him lanes to scramble out of and shut down Charles in both rushing and receiving. Look for Woodyard to be more of a spy on Smith against their offense. It will be interesting to see if Jack Del Rio dials up some man coverage or zone because of Smith. Danny Trevathan and the safeties will have to react quickly to keep Charles from having a big game. As goes Charles, so goes the Chiefs. Phillips and Miller should be able to get pressure from the outside going against Eric Fisher and Branden Albert. Since the game is in Denver, the crowd noise will affect the OTs.
Well, that's all I have this week. Get well soon Coach Fox! May the hyping of the prime-time game commence and GO BRONCOS!!!