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8 things we learned in the Broncos chilly 43-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs

The Denver Broncos were beaten 43-16 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are 8 things we learned from this loss.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
To put it kindly, Drew Lock was bad today.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Is it actually a rivalry if one team has lost 10 in a row?

I have no idea, but here are the things we did learn in the Denver Broncos ugly loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dalton Risner gritted it out and looked good.

Last week’s injury really sucked because the Broncos’ second-year guard seemed to be making real strides since his early struggles. For the better part of the week Risner’s status for today looked up in the air due to a shoulder ailment. It didn’t stop him from making the 22nd consecutive start to open his career and Shurmur wasn’t afraid to lean on him to lead the way.

Phillip Lindsay ran the ball 9 times for 79 yards in the first, most of them behind a pulling 66.

Alexander Johnson did his part.

With the offense in a deep freeze to start the game, it looked like things could get out of hand really quickly. After two three and outs, the dinosaur punched the ball out of Nick Keizer’s hands to throw them back onto the field. We knew Johnson was an elite run defender and the best coverage backer on the team. Today he reminded us he has a knack for big plays in tight moments.

Shurmur’s play calling wasn’t the issue. Execution was.

I was really critical of Shurmur’s play calling last week because he leaned so heavily on isolation routes with a depleted receiving corps against a really strong secondary. By and large, I was happy with what he did today. The Broncos got on the board because Shurmur didn’t hesitate to weaponize Lock’s mobility.

Outside of Tyrann Mathieu the Chiefs don’t have big names in their secondary, but it’s been an elite unit against the pass. They had notable issues defending runs along the perimeter. Shurmur made a point to go after them time and again with both Lindsay and Gordon.

There’s little doubt Lock struggled today, but it wasn’t for lack of options in the passing game. I’ll make a point to highlight this once I can watch the wide angle of the game, but there were a number of plays in the first half where it looked like Lock ignored an open checkdown option in favor of a deep shot.

I’ll need to go back over the All-22 to be sure, but even the flea flicker looked defensible if Melvin Gordon remembers how to pitch a football.

Phillip Lindsay is RB1.

This is the first game since week one that both Melvin Gordon and Lindsay were healthy. Without Lindsay the Broncos’ run game was mostly inside zone, outside zone, and some Duo concepts, while last week we saw the return of Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow leading the way on counter and power plays. The difference made me curious how Shurmur would attack the Chiefs’ run defense.

It was a heavy dose of Phil in neutral downs with Gordon coming in when they needed a pass protector. It’s what I expected when the Broncos paid $16 million to sign the former Charger. Lindsay’s been the more explosive runner and has done a better job protecting the ball. If he’s healthy, the rushing attack should run through him.

Jeremy Cox saw his first snaps on offense with Beck out.

Back in camp Cox fought Andrew Beck for the handful of snaps Pat Shurmur uses a fullback. While Beck started camp on the Covid list, it didn’t stop him from winning the job. Even still, I’m glad Cox hung around on the practice squad. He’s a former running back who has the size and physicality to serve as a blocker when necessary. Add in his special teams value, and he quietly offers some promise.

Mecole Hardman had a big first quarter.

The second year receiver’s had a promising start to his NFL career, but there’s been hope among Chiefs’ faithful that more is coming. Sammy Watkins’ absence meant there’d be some extra targets to go around and Mahomes didn’t hesitate to look Hardman’s way early and often in the first.

Fangio was still aggressive.

Coming into today there’s been a noticeable shift in the Broncos’ defense from a year ago.

I was curious if Fangio would blitz as much today. Mahomes has destroyed teams like Baltimore for sending extra rushers after him. Fangio didn’t hesitate to dial up the heat when he deemed it necessary. It helped Bradley Chubb get home in the first quarter.

Very few defenses in the NFL can stop an elite offense for long, but outside the Clyde Edwards-Helaire run and against Mecole Hardman, the Broncos defense did its part in the first half.

Even as the offense and special teams let them down, the Broncos continued to give Mahomes a real battle. Kansas City didn’t convert a third down through three quarters and the defense allowed just 16 points.

It wasn’t ‘til Tyrann Mathieu picked off an off-target throw to K.J. Hamler in the fourth quarter that Patrick Mahomes capitalized with a touchdown pass. I find it hard to blame the defense. Give Andy Reid enough cracks at the redzone and he’s going go start finding ways to make it count.

Locked in?

Even with the turnovers, sacks, and fumbled snap Drew Lock outdueled Cam Newton in Foxboro last week. This week he continued to look for the deep ball, but it worked to his detriment when he missed check downs time and again. I was nervous about how Steve Spagnuolo could dial up heat on passing downs and run traps behind the blitz. Turns out it was for good reason.

My biggest complaint about Lock’s performance against New England is how he continued to show a troubling lack of situational awareness. That continued today. A 58-yard field goal is no gimme, but Lock took a sack and eliminated Brandon McManus’ opportunity to cut into the 24-9 lead before the half.

The gameplan seemed to shift towards more conservative passing in the second half and Lock responded by finding Albert Okwuegbunam time and again. The loss of Lindsay to a concussion and Kansas City playing over the top meant the offense had to drive the field small chunks at a time. They couldn’t do it ‘til the game was obviously out of reach.

Final thoughts

During the third quarter I had a number of people reach out to me on Twitter to ask if the Broncos should make a move to Brett Rypien. Let me be as perfectly clear as I can: NO. If Drew Lock is healthy, he needs to play out the string. It already sucks that they lost two games to evaluate him against two quality defenses in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. The Chiefs looked like a buzzsaw going in and the results today aren’t surprising, even if it’s discouraging.

As a second round pick, Denver is in a situation where they have a cost controlled QB over the next two seasons. That could be critical since Patrick Mahomes’ own contract doesn’t become a potential cap issue until 2023. This year has always been about finding out what the plan needs to be for 2021, so let’s keep perspective. It’s simply too soon to say with certainty if Drew Lock is the real answer or not.

Even still, it definitely looks like the Broncos currently have the 4th best starting quarterback in the AFC West.