The Denver Broncos head to Arrowhead Stadium to take on their division rival Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. This will be an early season battle for first place in the AFC West between these two 1-0 team's in what should be a tough contest.
With that said, let's take a look at the seven things I will be watching for during tonight's game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
1. All eyes on Peyton Manning
Last Sunday, all eyes were on 39-year-old Peyton Manning. Everyone was wondering if Manning's preseason struggles were just rust or is Peyton Manning beginning to lose the unwinnable battle against father time?
Last week Manning looked old, flustered, and just average against the Baltimore Ravens. He went 24 for 40, for 175 yards, and 1 interception that went for a touchdown. Manning's struggles aren't anything new. His last six games he has 4 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
If the Broncos want to have postseason and playoff dreams, Manning will need to cut down on these turnovers quickly. With the defense looking elite, and with a running game that's going to get going soon, all the Broncos need Manning to do is manage the game. Do not turn the ball over, and help put the offense in the best chance to succeed.
The last time the Broncos faced the Chiefs, Manning did just that. He managed the game, did not turn the ball over, and let his run game and defense take over.
In that game, Manning went 17 for 34, for 179 yards. That game was in frigid and windy Arrowhead. If Manning can do that tonight, I really do like the Broncos chances of winning this game.
If Manning again struggles, and turns the ball over, the Broncos might fall to 1-1.
2. Offensive line struggles
The Broncos offensive line faced one of their toughest challenges last Sunday when they faced the Baltimore Ravens front 7. The Ravens one of the better front seven's in the NFL, and predictably hey manhandled the Broncos offensive line.
This week, the challenge won't be easier against the Chiefs tough front seven. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be a force on the edge, and nose tackle Dontari Poe and Inside Linebacker Derrick Johnson on the inside. These players will make it tough for the Broncos offensive line.
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Hopefully, this group shows some improvement over last when they allowed Manning to get hit and sacked and didn't open up many running lanes for Anderson and Hillman.
3. The running game
Many predicted that the Broncos running game would get off to a fast start this season, but they did not have too much success against the Ravens tough defense.
Anderson carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards(2.4 yards per carry), and Ronnie Hillman carried the ball 12 times for 41 yards(3.4 yards per carry).
The Broncos came away from the Ravens game a little banged up. Anderson suffered a toe injury and is questionable for tonight's game. Head Coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week that Anderson is "fine", and should be able to go Thursday night.
It won't be easy for these two backs. The Chiefs had one of the better run defenses in the league last season and figure to be tough once again this season. With that said, the Houston Texans did have some success running the ball on the Chiefs on Sunday. They totaled 98 yards on 21 carries between three running backs, and quarterback Ryan Mallet.
The last time the Broncos played the Chiefs, Anderson had one of his best games of the season. He ran the ball 32 times for 168 yards. He also added 2 receptions for 17 yards and 1 touchdown.
Hopefully for the Broncos, Anderson will have similar success tonight.
4. That defense
The Broncos defense was dominant on Sunday. The Ravens offense never had a chance, and Joe Flacco was under pressure pretty much everytime he unsuccessfully tried to move the ball down the field.
Just how good was #Broncos pass rush vs. Flacco? Flacco was pressured on 22 of 34 dropbacks (65%). NFL average last year was 34%,— Eric Goodman (@EricGoodman) September 16, 2015
Not only did they pressure Flacco, they stuffed the run, limited the passing game, and did not allow a touchdown to the Ravens offense. They also forced two interceptions. One that went for the game-changing touchdown, and another one that clinched the game for the Broncos.
The defense was one of the big reasons why the Broncos are 1-0 right now, and the team might lean on the defensive side of the ball once again tonight.
The Chiefs have one of the better-running backs in the league in Jammal Charles. Stopping him should be the number one priority for the Broncos defense. Giving up big runs to him will open up the Chiefs limited passing attack.
I would expect Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., and Bradley Roby to lock down their receivers, but stopping tight end Travis Kelce could be an issue for the Broncos.
Last Sunday, Kelce was unstoppable. He racked up 6 receptions for 106 yards, and 2 touchdowns against the Texans in a "Gronk-like" performance. I'm anxious to see how linebacker Brandon Marshall, and safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart hold up against him.
5. Playing on the road
I do not have the stats handy to back this up, but last season the Broncos didn't play as well on the road as they did at home. I'm interested to see if this carries over this year.
Playing in Arrowhead in Primetime is never easy, ask the Patriots.
I expect the Chief fans to be rowdy, loud and making it hard for Manning to do his thing at the line. It will be interesting to see how the Broncos offense will function like that with Kubiak/Rico at the helm.