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Scouting the enemy: Kansas City Chiefs

MHR's Christopher Hart takes a deeper look at the Kansas City Chiefs in advance of tomorrow's prime time gridiron battle.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This week and for each week thereafter during the season, I will be taking over the "Scouting the Enemy" segments for Mile High Report.  The purpose of these articles is to familiarize the fan base with the opposing team and will cover the additions and subtractions of each franchise, current statistical rankings on offense and defense, key match-ups, coach quotes and general thoughts on what to look forward to each game.  I will try to do film analysis and break down when possible and am currently in the process of getting access to All-22 film to provide more in-depth breakdowns in the future. 

As many of you know, Bronco Mike was the author of this segment in the past and I have big shoes to fill to live up to the quality of information he provided week in and week out. I will do my best to live up to his standard, yet will likely do things a little bit differently as well. If you have any suggestions or comments on what you would like to see in future articles, don't hesitate to contact me or sound off in the comments.

Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy!

Looking back at the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City finished second in the AFC West last season with a 9-7 record and a divisional split of 3-3, but lost to the Denver Broncos in both games by scores of 24-17 and 29-16 respectively.  The Chiefs were 7-3 with six weeks to go left in the season, but fizzled into obscurity after their memorable win against the Seattle Seahawks in November.  After a 2013 campaign that saw them win 11 games and 9 in a row to start the season, last years campaign was certainly unacceptable for Kansas City, who definitely has the talent on their roster to win 10 games.

One of the most memorable defensive performances by any player in 2014 was by star outside linebacker Justin Houston, who racked up 22 sacks over 16 games. It was by far one of the most dominant single season statistic performances in league history. Whether or not Houston is able to put up those numbers again this year remains to be seen, but he has set a goal for himself of 25 sacks in 2015.

However, the biggest headline of the Chiefs 2014 that will be remembered long after Houston's sack attack was that no receiver caught a touchdown for the squad. An impressive feat to the say the least and a trend that continued into this season, as only tight end Travis Kelce and running back Jamaal Charles hauled in touchdown receptions in their week one victory over the Houston Texans. At the end of the day, it was an embarrassing hallmark that epitomized the massive underachieving effort that placed on the gridiron last fall and winter.

Alas, with a new season, brings new opportunity and the 2015 Chiefs are hoping they have enough fight in them to displace the four-time in a row division champion Denver Broncos as head honchos of the AFC West. The team made several big acquisitions.  Most importantly the re-signing of Houston, as well as the acquisition of former Pro-Bowl guard Ben Grubbs and the signing of former Andy Reid draft selection, Jeremy Maclin from the Philadelphia Eagles. On paper, the Chiefs have a more formidable roster than they had last season.  We shall see if the plethora of acquisitions via free agency and the draft help them make a surge towards the playoffs.

Listed below is a comprehensive review of their recent offseason transactions:

Identifying the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs

Key Additions: Ben Grubbs, LG | Paul Fanaika, RG | Jeremy Maclin, WR | Tyvon Branch, S

Key Losses:
Dwayne Bowe, WR | Rodney Hudson, C | Vance Walker, DE | Joe Mays, LB

Re-signs and Restructures:
Justin Houston, OLB, Tamba Hali, OLB | Mike DeVito, DE | Josh Mauga, ILB | Ron Parker, S | Demetrius Harris, TE

2015 Draft Class: Marcus Peters, CB | Mitch Morse, OL | Chris Conley, WR | Steven Nelson, CB | Ramik Wilson, LB | D.J. Alexander, LB | James O'Shaughnessy, TE | Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DL | Da'Ron Brown, WR

Note: All Chiefs draft picks, with the exception of Da'Ron Brown made the final roster.  Brown was stashed on their practice squad.

KC's Cause for Concern: Ambiguity on the Offensive Line

Broncos fans may not empathize, but certainly can understand what Chiefs fans are going through, as the team rolled out five new starters on the offensive line compared to last season.  Former #1 overall selection Eric Fisher has been nothing but a bust and was replaced by Jah Reid to start at right tackle in their opener against the Texans.  Stud center Rodney Hudson signed with the Oakland Raiders in the offseason and second round selection Mitch Morse has taken over for him.

In addition to the above, fourth year player and career back-up Donald Stephenson is charged with protecting Alex Smith's blindside, and former Pro-Bowler Ben Grubbs and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who recorded his first start on Sunday are manning down the guard positions.

The Broncos are in a similar situation.  Louis Vasquez is the only starter to make the transition to the zone-blocking scheme in 2015 for Denver. Ty Sambrailo has replaced Ryan Clady at left tackle, and Evan Mathis took over for Orlando Franklin at left guard. Second-year player Matthew Paradis has taken over signal calling and snap duties at center and long-time NFL veteran and former Broncos third-round pick Ryan Harris has assumed duty at right tackle.

It's an uneasy situation for both teams, but both know that it will take some time to work out the kinks in their new line-ups in the offensive trenches. Here is to hoping the learning curve for the Broncos is much shorter than it is for the Chiefs, especially this Thursday.  With that being said, here are my three key takes for the Broncos to reign victorious tomorrow evening.

Hart's 3 Keys to Winning at Arrowhead Stadium

1) Slowing Down Jaamal Charles

There is no doubt that Charles is the best offensive player Kansas City has and is certainly one of the league's best playmakers at the running back position.  He has elusive speed, quick moves and is also an essential cog in their dink-and-dunk passing attack. The Broncos will likely have two players watching Charles' every move on the field when he is on the field this Thursday.

If Denver make a mental error in this regard, he has game breaking ability and can take it to the house at any given snap. Taking Charles out of the game will force the Chiefs to have the pass the ball and given the prowess of the Broncos secondary. The odds would be in our favor if we force Alex Smith to make plays with his arm. I like our chances a lot better if the Chiefs hopes are in the hands of Smith as opposed to Charles toting the rock.

2) The Containment of Travis Kelce

The focal point of the Chiefs downfield passing game thus far, much like it was in 2014, was ascending tight end Travis Kelce. The Cincinnati Bearcats product took the NFL by storm last season and amassed 67 receptions for 862 yards and 5 touchdowns. Last week against the Texans, he snagged 6 catches for 106 yards and two scores. He offers an incredible combination of size and speed and is well on his way to becoming one of the elite players at the position.

Broncos safety T.J. Ward will return to the field after serving a one game suspension and will have to be on his A game in order to limit Kelce's big play potential.  Expect the Broncos to have their linebackers shadowing and dropping into coverage, in particular Brandon Marshall, to combat against Kelce as well. I'm not worried about Kansas City's wide receivers in this game.  I expect Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib to lock down Jeremy Maclin and the rest of the NFL retreads their team has at the position. However, Kelce is a key player worth noting and Denver must have an effective game plan to slow down his pass catching stampede.

3) Protect Peyton Manning to allow for an Aerial Assault

If the Broncos want to be effective on the offensive side of the ball,they have to protect quarterback Peyton Manning. They did a horrendous job of this against the Ravens last week and the front seven of the Chiefs is arguably just as good, if not better than what they faced on Sunday.

The struggles are understandable given the wealth of turnover on the front lines and the fact that the new unit had very few opportunities to work with with one another. Cohesiveness, timing and execution are crucial in order for the zone-blocking scheme to succeed and it's clear the Broncos have a ways to go before it is cleared up.  All they can hope for is a better performance Thursday night.

Broncos right tackle Ryan Harris is quite familiar with Justin Houston, having went up against him through practice reps with the Chiefs last season, but his in-game scenario against the premier pass rusher means much more than that on Thursday. Rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo will have his hands full against seasoned veteran Tamba Hali, who is no slouch at getting after the quarterback and has 79.5 sacks thus far in his nine year career. The book-end pass rushers for the Chiefs are no joke and pose a serious threat to the ability of the Broncos to be aggressive offensively.

The Chiefs will be without their top corner Sean Smith, who is serving a three game suspension. I like Denver's wide receivers over the Chiefs young and inexperienced corners, although rookie cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson do show a lot of promise.  Expect a lot of short screens, posts and underneath routes to take advantage of their secondary and when the running game gets going, downfield strikes to catch them off-guard.

What Their Coaches Are Saying

It's a new system. They'll be fine, we just don't want it this week. Andy Reid, Head Coach (Courtesy of the Denver Post)

Wade has been blessed with having a lot of talent on defense and one thing he does is he kind of keeps it simple for them. There’s not a ton of pressure like we saw from Houston this past week. He has his typical blitzes, but he loves to play his man coverage and sprinkle in some zone. We’re not going to see a barrage of pressure because he doesn’t have to. He’s got two great pass-rushers on the outside. Doug Pederson, Offensive Coordinator (Courtesy of ESPN)

What Our Coaches Are Saying

They have great edges. When you go there and play them, they’re even better because of the noise and how tough it is. They (Kansas City pass rushers) disrupted the game last week in Houston, caused havoc and caused turnovers. They’re very much [alike]. They play a few different fronts, but I think the challenge is probably tougher this week because of the fact that we’re on the road. Simply the fact that we’re playing at Arrowhead [Stadium] and you’re not going to be able to hear. That’s just the way that it is, so you have to get ready to play. We have to incorporate that into our practice today. Gary Kubiak, Head Coach in regard to the Chiefs defense

Jamaal’s a complete player. I’m real familiar with him. He’s from my home area. I did a roast this year down there with him. I didn’t say anything bad. I tried to be nice cause he’s a heck of a player. He’s a great person, too. He does a lot of stuff in our home area for kids—camps and those kind of things every year. I’m real familiar with him. I wish we would have gotten him in Dallas when I was there but it didn’t happen. Anyway, he’s a dual threat. You can stop him running with it—like last week they stopped him pretty well running with it—but he caught seven or eight passes. He can do both really well. We have to have two guys watching him all the time. You’ve got to point him out in the running game and the passing game. Wade Phillips, Defensive Coordinator in regard to Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles

It’s anything from snap count, getting in the huddle and making sure that everybody is on the same page to hearing the right call. Our place is noisy for an offense also. When you come into our place, we try to think that our fans do a great job of being noisy. Eight times a year you’re going to have that and eight times you’re going to be in the place that you want to be. It’s just one of those things that you deal with and it’s a great challenge for us.  Rick Dennison, Offensive Coordinator in regard to the noise at Arrowhead Stadium

Hart's Prediction for Thursday Night

The winner of this game will be atop the AFC West. Although it is early in the season, this game could be the difference between a division title and a wildcard berth. The Broncos cannot afford to overlook the Chiefs, who looked impressive offensively, despite letting the Texans eek back into the game late last weekend.

I think Denver runs a lot more successfully than they did against Baltimore, which will help open up the passing game that was completely absent from the Ravens affair.  I don't expect big points from the offense, but enough to get the job done. Wade Phillips will once again have his defense prepared for the key match-ups outlined above and will be able to limit the success of Kansas City.

The Broncos will come out on top tomorrow night, but it will be another nail biter.

Denver 20, Kansas City 17.