Merry Christmas to us! Not only is Sunday the day Santa Claus will have arrived (hooray!), it’s also a day the Broncos play - and against a hated division rival no less. The fact that these two things occur on the same day should not go unnoticed.
Last week I was sure my good behavior this year would mean a few extra bounces the Broncos’ way in the Pats game (my Christmas wish), but since Santa Claus (and apparently our offense) were not paying attention, I’m convinced my wishes will be fulfilled this weekend.
But more important than my wishes are those of our Ultimate Fans, and there is no bigger Chiefs-hater than Zach Eckels, who has to endure Chiefs fandom on a daily basis, so he is really hoping - and wishing on every Christmas star out there - that the offense can pull it together just enough for the defense to wreak the havoc it was always meant to.
But coach Gary Kubiak - like the rest of us - knows this is no small task.
"No doubt. It’s a must-win game for our football team. The players know that," Kubes said Wednesday. "We can’t worry about anything else or what’s going to happen. We have to go in there and beat a really good football team."
That’s what we’re all counting on.
So c’mon, Santa, err Broncos,...we’ve been OUTSTANDING fans this year!
MHR – The Broncos are in a position many guys on this team haven’t been in before – potentially not playing in the postseason. Do you expect the team to be on fire to do whatever it can to prevent this, or is there concern it lacks a morale boost needed to be up for two very tough final games?
Zach Eckels: I'm fully confident our defense will be full of fire and fighting down to the final seconds no matter what happens during the span of these final two games. (Hopefully it doesn't turn into frustration that boils over in unsavory ways.)
The offense on the other hand has me worried. The stressful and plodding games this year have me worn out as a fan. I can't imagine what they must be doing to the offensive players who keep giving it their all with little to show for it. In past seasons, we've all seen plenty of other teams lay down and give up at this point, fully ready for the warm embrace of the offseason. I'd like to think we don't have any of those players on our team, but after the past couple weeks, the offense has me wondering.
MHR – The schism between the offense and defense was passed off as "just football" but it definitely shows a "break" in the locker room that we haven’t seen since before Manning. Do you think Aqib Talib is right when he says the veterans on both offense and defense can bring this team together to finish out the season? Are you concerned about leadership on this team?
Zach Eckels: I'm concerned about leadership on our offense. They just haven't been playing with any passion. Demaryius Thomas is the captain, but he seems to be too soft-spoken. Maybe Justin Forsett can help out with this and remind our guys what they're playing for. On defense we have DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Von Miller – all such big personalities across the board. Guys who could get a rock to show some emotion.
With Manning gone, I don't know who they can work with on offense to have that same voice. It's something that should be coming from the quarterback position, but I don't see it in Siemian. We can't keep fielding 11 individuals every time we get the ball. And I'd like to believe that our defense can open the eyes of the offensive vets... but right now I'm doubting it.
MHR – Does the fact that the Broncos lost the first matchup to the Chiefs after a high-scoring game at home discourage you as Denver heads to Arrowhead? Or are you encouraged by the fact that the loss to KC came because of a few crazy plays …yet the offense was able to score three touchdowns on the Chiefs in that game?
Zach Eckels: What's concerning to me is that those fluke plays have started showing they weren't a one-time thing with the Chiefs. If something crazy happens in Arrowhead, the momentum will be extremely hard to shift back to our side. We can absolutely take care of business and control the Chiefs' offense. It needs to be a long, plodding game that gets the crowd out of it as much as possible and eliminates any big mistakes. So I'd say, best effort and we will win. But the fluke plays/circumstances we faced last time could very easily happen to us again, which will be extremely difficult to rebound from. It's got to be a complete game from us, and even then, it likely won't be pretty.
MHR – Tyreek Hill, going to the Pro Bowl and one of the biggest return threats in the league, is torching teams across the NFL. Do you think the Broncos ST will be better prepared for him this week?
Zach Eckels: Tyreek "Domestic Violence" Hill absolutely has to be accounted for at all times. Our kicking game has to be on point and we can't give him the opportunity to run. But even more so, we have to be ready for them to script some plays to try and get him in open space on offense. Right now he's an ace in the hole, and we have to have a consistent answer for him.
And while I'm on the subject of Hill, I have to say that I can't think of anything more frustrating than a guy like him having success. No team should have given this guy a shot after what he did in college. He should have the Ray Rice blackball – but this just proves Rice is only out of the NFL because he can't play anymore.
The fact that our rival - who claims time and time again to be the best in the league at targeting upstanding character - drafted Hill is infuriating. The idea that he's found success in this league with plenty of accolades on a rival only exacerbates things. I mean, the guy grew up an hour away from where I did in Kansas. He's probably playing for his favorite team and experiencing the life most football fans dream of. He should be struggling to land a job as a janitor with his history. I consider it our duty to remind Chef fans of this fact every opportunity we get.
MHR – Broncos have consistently underused our tight ends, but have been bringing A.J. Derby along more and more. Without Derby (concussion protocol), do you think Jeff Heuerman could be a big asset this week against the Chiefs' defense?
Zach Eckels: I'd love to see us targeting the middle with tight ends more often... but against the Chiefs, this might end up being an even weaker spot than we're used to this year.
MHR – Speaking of tight ends, Travis Kelce gained 101 yards against the Broncos last time (while the defense shut down wide receiver Jeremy Maclin). So how should Phillips account for Kelce and the other receiving threats this week?
Zach Eckels: Kelce has been lining up in the slot and as a WR more and more often. He's not a traditional tight end, and we have to game plan against him every bit as hard as we've planned for Gronk in the past. Leaving Chris Harris in the slot just isn't going to work when he lines up there. He's eight inches taller and too physical.
We need Talib on Kelce and Harris on Hill. Maclin is only their No. 1 on paper (Kelce has the most targets and yards; Hill as the second most targets and yards), and Roby can handle him just fine. I'm afraid if we let the Chiefs determine our coverage, they'll continue to find ways to move the ball. I'll trust whatever Wade decides is best though, but we need to make sure Alex Smith struggles to get either of those two main targets the ball.
MHR – The Broncos’ run defense has been its weakest link all season but was effective against Chiefs’ running backs, holding them to under 90 yards total. How do you think the run defense will respond this week?under 90 yards in total.
Zach Eckels: I'm actually pretty confident in our run defense this week (which scares me). I don't consider Ware to be much of a weapon, and Kelce and Hill are the only two that concern me.
MHR – The Broncos offense is baffling (infuriating?). It showed promise in the hurry-up last week but has been woeful in the red zone and inconsistent all season. What are the chances it can pull together a solid performance against the Chiefs at Arrowhead – a very tough stadium to play?
Zach Eckels: Our offense does a good job of taking what is given to them. But it doesn't do much more than that. Houston destroyed us last time we played, and I don't see us having an answer for that on Sunday. It's going to be a cold, wet Christmas day at Arrowhead, and we'll desperately need to see something new from our running game and/or help from our defense. I think the odds for a solid performance are very low. But if we find a way to get a couple big plays like we did last time, it'll likely be enough to pull out a win.
MHR – If you’re Kubiak/Dennison/Knapp (and maybe even Thunder???) - what kind of offensive game plan would you suggest to give this offense the BEST chance to beat the Chiefs?
Zach Eckels: Can I ask Elway to suit back up? (*editor’s note: absolutely yes).
All joking aside, I hope we're ready to run the ball early and often. I'd want to get Forsett outside and slam Booker right down Justin Houston's throat. If I'm planning this game, the only chance I see us having is wearing down their defense as soon as possible. With their pass rush, the run has to set up some bootlegs and deep shots again. If we can't get the run game started one way or the other, it's going to be a long night.
MHR – Which Chiefs players/units cause you the most concern for our Broncos?
Zach Eckels: Offense - Kelce and Tyreek "Domestic Violence" Hill. Defense - Houston and their pass rush. Eric Berry also concerns me the way he played us last time. He was trying to take guys out, and I hope we're prepared for that.
MHR – Which Broncos defensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
Zach Eckels: Von Miller needs to have a huge game. He needs to have Alex Smith so cold from being on the wet turf so much that he's shaking from that as much as the fear Miller has instilled in him. If our pass rush can get to Smith early and often, the mistakes will start to happen.
MHR – Which Broncos offensive player NEEDS to be this week’s star?
Zach Eckels: Justin Forsett. The conditions will require SOME level of a running game, and we'll need him to be the man who sparks it.
MHR - Which coach wins the "Andy Reid Clock Management Award" this week - Kubiak or Reid?
Zach Eckels: I don't think anyone can take that award away from Andy Reid. The only reason we're all sure our last game with the Chiefs would have ended in a tie if we punted is because his two-minute drill would have been lucky to get them more than one first down. In all seriousness, bad clock management typically correlates to being over cautious.
The difference between Kubiak and Reid is that Kubiak knows when to gamble and when fold his hand. With our weak offense this season, he's had to start folding more than any of us would like... but it has kept us in the games. He's still the guy who attempted that 62 yard field goal in overtime though, and I'll trust him to manage the clock appropriately. Reid on the other hand plays so safe that his tiny risks tend to be surprising. He coaches not to lose. And that's why the Chiefs might make the playoffs, but I sincerely doubt he'll ever take them to the promised land.
MHR – There is a lot of doom and gloom after any loss , so what would you tell your fellow MHR comrades about how to view this season, these final two games, and whatever is coming in the offseason?
Zach Eckels: Keep the faith alive. Our defense has had an even more difficult job this year and is still destroying worlds. The odds we get into the playoffs are low but not impossible. And humiliating our division rivals on our way into a run would be extremely satisfying.
But even if we don't make it this year, we've still extended the NFL's longest streak of avoiding two consecutive losing seasons. We'll still have a ton of talent on defense under contract next season, and if we're dangerous this year, it won't take much to return to the very top in 2017. The offense can and will be fixed, one way or the other.
And we're still the luckiest fans in the NFL.
Stats for Trevor Siemian? 18/30, 230 yards, 1 INT, 1 TD
Number of carries/yards rushing for Broncos RBs? Forsett: 24 for 130; Booker: 10 for 54
Number of yards receiving for Broncos WRs? Thomas, 80 yards; Sanders, 75 yards
Number of sacks to Siemian? 5
Number of sacks to Alex Smith? 6
Broncos player with the most sacks? Von Miller
Broncos player with the most tackles? Chris Harris
How many turnovers for the Broncos D? 3
Final Score? Broncos 16, Chiefs 13
Favorite win you’ve watched the Broncos accomplish THIS SEASON? Panthers win Week One. Our defense was just nasty. Plus, we all thought the Panthers were the same team as last year, and the odds of repeating were at an all-time high.
Favorite Broncos win EVER? Super Bowl 32. Dad is a Packers fan. Elway finally getting the win. Davis having a huge game despite a migraine. Excitement down to the end. Passion from every player on the field. That game is a masterpiece.
Team you hate to lose to the most? Chiefs. I live in their Queendom, and their fans aren't used to winning. Grace is a concept that's pretty foreign to them despite the fact that few of them even own a jersey outside of the Derrick Thomas or Jamaal Charles versions.
Team you love to beat? Chiefs. I don't even have to say a word to drive them crazy the day after that happens. So. Much. Fun.
Game you most wish we had back to do over this season?
I'd love most to have another shot at the Chiefs at Mile High. It'd affect our playoff chances the most, and we should have won that game.
Game most worried about this season? The next one :).
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Chris Harris Jr. My wife's a KU fan, and I’m K-State. When we signed him, I rubbed it in her face that we had a KU scrub to beat up in training camp. Then he made the team. Then he started making plays. Now he’s considered one of the best in the game. Plus, he took a hometown discount to stay in Denver. So great player, with that personal connection and the character I’d love to see from all of our guys, easily has him at the top of my list.
Favorite rookie/young guy on the team? Andy Janovich. That guy is missed right now.
Favorite Broncos player of all time? John Elway
Superstitions on game day? I try to avoid them, but I can't help but hold my breath and/or try to distract myself during critical moments. (I used to go as far as to change the channel)
Favorite Broncos jersey color combo? The 1965 jerseys are so gorgeous. I have a Terrell Davis throwback in that style, and it's my favorite jersey.
Favorite TD celebration? You can't beat the Mile High Salute.
Favorite Von Miller sack dance? When he flailed his arms like a little kid running off the field after taking the ball away from Carr.
How did you become a Broncos fan?
I grew up the same distance from Denver as Kansas City. The Chiefs were a Missouri team, so I didn't feel any connection to them. I had family in Colorado and absolutely loved it out there (still do). Plus, I loved going against the grain (also, still do) and loved being a thorn in all my Chief-fan friends' sides.
Lots of playground fights and torn Elway shirts, but memories I'll always cherish.