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Break It Down: Denver @ Kansas City

Opening Statement

After an unfortunate week (to say the least), we can focus on Denver's upcoming game this week. They travel to Arrowhead stadium to face off against the Chiefs at 1:00 PM EST.

This will be a game that can either end Denver's season or offer a glimmer of hope. While most have declared this season over, I would argue there is still much to be done. Denver has still failed to develop any sense of offensive identity and the defense continues to battle injuries and at the same time work as a unit.

In an article written on ColdHardFootballFacts's (CHFF) website, they discussed the parallels between Johnny Unitas and his Championship Colts who won despite having a prolific running attack and Manning and the current Colts. That year, they averaged 3.25 YPC.

The author stated that offensive balance trumps being prolific. In 1970, the Colts attempted 416 passes to go with 411 runs, almost 50-50. This year, the Colts have 486 passing attempts and only 256 runs. Manning is on pace to break the NFL record for attempts per game with 44.2 attempts per game. That is not winning football.

What does this have to do with Denver? More after the jump.

What Can We Learn From This?

Even though the 1970 Colts team was 7th in scoring defense in a 26-team league, they made a key decision despite their struggles. They suffered injuries like the Colts and Broncos this year. They also struggled to run with any type of success in an era where running the football was much more frequent. Yet, they chose to run often, even if they only averaged just over 3 YPC.

Yes, Denver struggled with their offensive line for the entire first half of the year, but since the bye, it has improved drastically. Health and continuity have played a big part. Now it is time for Denver, meaning McDaniels, to make the same decision that the 1970 Colts team made - balance must be restored.

The reason is actually very simple - even as good as Peyton Manning has been at times this year and for his career, he needs a running game. This year's Colts team is ranked 19th in scoring defense with 21.6 points allowed per game and 18th in total points allowed with 22.9 points per game allowed. Yet, their prolific offense has faltered because they have abandoned the run and have now lost 5 games in a season for the first time since 2002.

Many things have gone wrong for Denver this year, so pointing them out won't mean much. However, McDaniels has a golden opportunity to demonstrate he has matured and is grasping what it takes to be a head coach and offensive coordinator for a newly constructed team. Everything in New England was set in stone and he took it to new heights. Now he must identify that Denver may need to pass to score, but they also need to run in order to win.

Right now, Denver has only 249 rushes compared to 430 passing attempts (If you add the 29 sacks, it actually comes out 459 attempts). Even though much of the argument for Denver's pass-oriented offense would be that Denver was either too injured to block or they were down too much in the second half and had to abandon the run.

Unfortunately, that is untrue. In most games, Denver abandoned the run in the first half, even the first quarter. I hope Orton does not break the NFL record for yards in a season for the simple fact that it would mean Denver never went to the running game. Moreno has 220 yards on 47 carries (4.68 YPC) in the last 3 games. What is also telling is in the one game he went over 20 carries, Denver won. In the two games against San Diego and St. Louis, he had a total of 25 carries.

So what now?

For Denver to play well in a hostile environment against a solid and very efficient team, Denver must have balance. Lance Ball had 4 carries for 31 yards against St. Louis. For Denver to win either Moreno or the combination of Moreno and Ball need to combine for at least 20 carries (preferably 25-30). Denver has a very good passing game that can become even more effective with the threat of a run. All Denver needs to do is try it.

Head-to-Head Comparison Chart

Here is my usual chart comparing Denver and Kansas City after Week 12.

Denver Rank Kansas City Rank
QB Rating 69.9 15th 73.9 7th
Net QB Rating -6.4 22nd 9.8 7th
Net YPT -21.6 27th 16.3 8th
Net Points -72.7 30th 44.4 10th
Misc 80 31st 34 6th (t)
Net SFP -4.3 31st 4 4th

As the chart above indicates, Kansas City is not flashy, but they are very good at almost everything. They are extremely efficient is special teams and performing in my Misc Stat that measures turnovers, penalties and third down conversion. They key is to force Kansas City out of their comfort zone which is running the football. Although Cassel is having an incredibly efficient year with 22 touchdowns and 5 turnovers, he is still only completing 60.4 percent of his passes.

Areas of Focus

Running game - Denver needs to reach the 20-25 carries mark

Run-defense - Denver has performed better in this area, but needs it to continue to improve.

Key Stat for Victory

Denver has actually performed better against the run, but the big play in the passing game has prolonged almost every drive. Denver's defensive QB rating of 76.3 is 29th in the NFL. Denver must apply pressure to the Kansas City offense and Matt Cassel. Even if it means blitzing on almost every play, Denver needs to create big plays on the defense side of the ball.

Closing Remarks

I have to go finish a paper for school, so I need to save some of my energy for that. Although this is my blueprint for success, it is much easier said that done. Denver has struggled mightily this year. Although I do not want the result of the St. Louis game, I hope Denver refuses to quit and shows the same competitive spirit that they demonstrated in the 4th quarter.