1. The Chiefs had been red hot up until the Oakland game. What went wrong?
Joel: The Raiders won the battle in the trenches. Their defensive line was able to harass Alex Smith while the offensive line produced for their running backs. That's where the Chiefs lost that game. What's interesting is that they didn't play significantly worse than they have in other games they've won. They just didn't make the clutch stop that they've made in previous games. Two weeks prior to that, for example, the Chiefs came back in the fourth quarter to take the lead over Buffalo. Then the Chiefs defense went down and made a stop on fourth down to secure the win. The Raiders game was the same with the Chiefs coming back late in the game except that the Chiefs defense did not make that fourth down stop. Oakland converted and won the game. The Raiders have played teams tough this year so I'm not as concerned about that game as you might think someone who just lost to a previously 0-10 team should be.
2. The Broncos' OL has been up and down. How is the Chiefs pass rush looking as we enter the season's final stretch?
It's looking pretty solid overall. Justin Houston has slowed down from his pace that would have set the NFL sack record to something a little more human. Tamba Hali is a year older and maybe a step slower on the other end. The biggest change from last year and even earlier this season is that defensive lineman Allen Bailey is doing a nice job with the pass rush up the middle. He'll play in the base and the nickel. He is probably helped by the attention given to the behemoth of a man next to him, Dontari Poe. The Chiefs are content to let those pass rushers do their thing and sit back in coverage and avoid the big play.
3. Peyton Manning is 12-1 all-time against the Chiefs and 5-0 with the Broncos. If you're the Chiefs defensive coordinator, do you change your gameplan this time around, or keep playing to your strengths?
I don't think you change a whole lot because the Chiefs have played him pretty well, relatively speaking (relative to other non-humans, I mean), since he came to Denver. Outside of the Chiefs 38-3 loss to the Broncos in the 2012 season finale, the Chiefs have kept the Manning games close. Twice they have had the ball late in the game with a chance to score. So that's as much on the Chiefs offense as the defense. There's no secret formula to beating Manning as you know so if you can keep it close and give yourself a chance, keep doing what you're doing. I wouldn't expect any wholesale changes to what you saw from the Chiefs earlier this year.
4. MHR's thoughts are with Eric Berry and company. Do you think Berry's possible lymphoma diagnosis could have a galvanizing/rallying effect on Chiefs players as they make their playoff push?
I do think there's a chance it turns into something like that because Berry is so well respected by his teammates and the fans. (And the media -- he always talks to us, which is nice) He's one of those guys who you would meet, even if he weren't a football player, and just say he's a really good dude. There is a #BerryStrong movement going around that will probably turn into a thing. He's a 25-year old Pro Bowler so you don't just forget those guys. On the flip side the Chiefs are equipped to handle his loss because they played without him from the first Broncos game in Week 2 when he was hurt all the way to Week 9 when he returned. Ron Parker did a good job replacing him. So as odd as it sounds to say, I'm not that concerned about replacing Berry on the field.
5. What's your prediction for the game, and for the AFC West the rest of the way?
I'm picking the Broncos to win because the Chiefs haven't proven they can beat them yet. I do expect it to be very close as some of the other Chiefs-Broncos games have been but I can't pick Kansas City to win yet. As for the rest of the AFC West, the Broncos are going to win the division, the Chiefs will pull a Wild Card spot out of there and the Chargers will fade away with a difficult schedule down the stretch. The Raiders ... well, the Raiders are probably going to win one game this season and it will have come against the Chiefs, which is starting to anger me.
Big thanks again to Joel for taking the time!