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How can the Broncos attack the Chiefs’ defense?

I spoke with Arrowhead Pride’s Craig Stout to find out.

The last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs, Peyton Manning was throwing passes. If the Broncos lose to Patrick Mahomes on Sunday Night Football, it will mark 11 straight losses in the matchup. An infamous streak that hasn’t been matched since 1973.

Andy Reid’s offense is so dangerous that no team enters Kansas City expecting to keep them off the scoreboard. The best course of action is to make life harder for Mahomes and the aerial circus and limit their possessions with an effective offense.

To get an idea how Drew Lock and the Broncos can find success against Steve Spagnuolo and the K.C. defense, I reached out to Arrowhead Pride’s resident film guru Craig Stout.

1st and 10

Typically Spags tries to hide his boundary corners, but Lock never hesitates to look for an iso-shot if he thinks his receiver has any sort of chance. I suspect it’s to accommodate his quarterback, but I’ve noticed Pat Shurmur has moved away from horizontal leading throws in favor of static routes like curls. How do you expect the Chiefs defense to deal with that?

Stout: Spagnuolo definitely prefers to utilize split-safeties to keep a lid on the top of the defense, but has had several games — particularly against run-heavy teams — where he has leaned on more single-high looks. The Chiefs nickel run defense has been a bit of a struggle throughout the year, so they’ve opted to stick a safety in the box on early downs and play with a single-high safety behind it. In those single-high looks, the Chiefs have given up some explosive plays on the boundary, particularly in those very same iso-shot instances you’re referencing. This has led to some greater cushions in single-high from the Chiefs cornerbacks and allowed those shorter, static routes to find greater success with the cornerbacks bailing quickly. If Shurmur keeps the boundary honest with enough vertical routes from Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, and KJ Hamler, comebacks and curls could be open underneath for most of the day.

2nd and 13

The last time we saw Lock he rebounded from a pick to have the best performance of the year by ESPN’s QBR. The Broncos leaned on pin and pull runs to attack the boundary and found a great deal of success to the right, which gave Shurmur the confidence to run more play action. To his credit Lock did a solid job taking what was there, dumping down to his tight ends when necessary.

Can the Broncos replicate that game plan against this defense?

Stout: The last time these two teams played, the Broncos were able to find success attacking the defensive end opposite of Frank Clark via inside zone cutbacks — typically to the right. If the Broncos opt to run more pin and pull schemes toward that defensive end, it could theoretically find great success on that side of the field with blockers out in front. Shurmur will have to be mindful of the Chiefs three-techniques when running these pin and pull schemes, as both Chris Jones and Tershawn Wharton are very strong gap shooters that could get into the backfield before the pin block from the frontside of the play. Nose tackle Derrick Nnadi has also shown a knack for identifying the scheme quickly as a frontside defender, getting into the pulling lane to disrupt the blocker in the backfield. If the Broncos lean heavily on that plan this week, the Chiefs defensive line could cause issues for them. However, if they’re able to sprinkle it into their normal scheme, they could find some explosive plays at the offering.

The play action passing game is definitely on the table as a successful option for Denver out of heavy personnel. The Chiefs are still bringing along rookie linebacker Willie Gay Jr slowly, and that’s resulted in him only playing base linebacker snaps. Gay is explosive and a terrific athlete, but has shown a propensity to be too aggressive on play action fakes — as most rookie linebackers do. If the Broncos are able to get the run game going against the Chiefs base defense, the rookie might try too hard to “make a play”, leaving the second tight end or some drags open to his side of the field.

Regardless of Lindsay’s status, the Broncos may not be able to lean as hard on pin and pull this week.

3rd and 18

Looking through your review from last week, and you mentioned the Tampa game is the best they’ve looked executing blitzes. The Broncos have had a number of issues with their pass protection leading up to the Miami game. Simulated pressures and blitzes have been a problem most of the year. How would you attack this line if you ran the defense?

Stout: The Chiefs four-man rush hasn’t been particularly effective for the last four games. Teams have been able to double-team Chris Jones and chip Frank Clark off the edge, which has given the quarterback ample time to pick apart the Chiefs secondary. That has led Steve Spagnuolo to play far more aggressively than his already-aggressive blitzing nature. Spagnuolo brought a blitz on all but one dropback in the first three Buccaneers drives last year, and it sped Brady’s timer up for most of the day. I would expect a similar approach against Lock and the Broncos early to try to make the young quarterback uncomfortable.

Spagnuolo, defensive line coach Brendan Daly, and linebackers coach Matt House have done an excellent job developing the pressure package execution to get open shots at the quarterback as the year has gone along. Last week was a masterclass early in the game in holding rush lanes, pulling blockers out of position, and looping the free rusher late to get a QB hit. The Chiefs only had one sack on the day, but Brady was on the turf often. Lock is a significantly more athletic quarterback than Brady, but could struggle to identify the exotic blitzes Spagnuolo brings this week. Since the Chiefs aren’t able to rely on the four-man rush to get consistent pressure, I expect a lot of defensive line twists with linebacker blitzes and safety/slot cornerback blitzes with defensive ends dropping to take away the hot routes against the Broncos this week.

4th and 24

While I think you root for the wrong team, you’re someone I love to talk ball with. You put in the work and it really shows. As a division rival, you’re familiar with the talent and scheme. What are your thoughts on this Broncos’ offense overall? What are their biggest needs if they want to catch KC?

Stout: First of all, thank you for the kind words. It means a lot coming from someone whom I have respect for as a football analyst and a writer!

Shortly after the Broncos draft this year, I reached out to you to discuss the moves your team had made. I really liked what your organization had done! Jeudy, Hamler, and Cushenberry were all players I was very high on, and Ojemudia and Agim were two of my mid-round draft crushes. Last year was also very positive with Risner, Fant, and Jones. There is a solid, young nucleus to build around on the offensive side of the ball that could definitely give the Chiefs defense fits in the years to come. The Broncos defense is definitely aging, but still has some quality pieces that could help play complementary football with a high-powered offense.

That said, they need consistent quarterback play to get the job done, and I don’t know if Drew Lock is the answer. Lock has been among the league’s worst quarterbacks this year and needs to show some serious signs of improvement in the remaining weeks to really prove that he’s deserving of the keys to the offense in year three and beyond. Several comments he’s made publicly and several decisions he’s made on the field have me worried about his growth curve and whether or not he’s “the guy” for the Broncos to hang their hats on for the foreseeable future. He certainly could take the necessary steps forward in these remaining weeks and earn that right. However — as a Chiefs fan — the version of Lock that has been with the Broncos thus far is a quarterback that I’m more than happy to play twice a year.

Extra Point

What are your predictions for the game?

Stout: I think the tone and tenor of this game will be set early by both teams. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are playing like an unstoppable force right now, but if anybody knows how to slow them down, it’s Vic Fangio. I expect Steve Spagnuolo to bring plenty of pressure early and force Lock to set his protections correctly. This could result in more one-on-one coverage for the Broncos terrific offensive weapons, creating opportunities for big plays. The Broncos will certainly want to get Philip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon going on the ground — which they should have no problem with against the Chiefs defense.

Chris Jones was dominant the last time these two teams played, and I expect a great performance from him again this week. Mahomes will get his yardage in a secondary that is missing Bryce Callahan, and Travis Kelce will become the first tight end in the history of the league to break 1,000 yards receiving in five consecutive seasons. I expect a close game for much of the first half — with Fangio’s defense and the Broncos rushing attack finding some success — before a costly turnover or two in the second half allow the Chiefs to pull away and win comfortably (sorry, guys).


Who ya got?

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  • 4%
    Broncos by a landslide.
    (23 votes)
  • 16%
    Broncos by a wee bit.
    (93 votes)
  • 64%
    Chiefs by a landslide.
    (370 votes)
  • 14%
    Chiefs by a wee bit.
    (84 votes)
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