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7 key matchups in the Broncos game against the Chiefs

To slow down Mahomes, the Broncos’ front seven needs to do their part.

Denver Broncos vs Los Angles Chargers. Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Broncos are facing their first Super Bowl of the 2021 season in Kansas City. At the end of the day, the cold hard truth of the game is that no matchup will matter as much as what they do against the 26-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback on the opposing sideline. To win, they’re going to need to figure out a way to prevent Patrick Mahomes from going nuclear, which means relying on Fangio’s two high coverages and playing sound coverage. It means Denver will need to create pressure without blitzing too often, something the Broncos struggled to do throughout most of the campaign. Such a gameplan will require ceding vulnerabilities and creating stress on certain individual matchups.

Broncos’ front vs. Chiefs’ OL

This isn’t the same Kansas City offensive line Broncos Country has grown familiar with. Eric Fisher is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts while Mitchell Schwartz talks with Robert Mays on The Athletic’s Football Show. The Chiefs took the departure of both their tackles as reason to completely overhaul the offensive line this last offseason. How those new faces fair against the Broncos’ defensive front will go a long way towards deciding the contest.

Orlando Brown was acquired from the Baltimore Ravens in a trade before the draft. At 6’8 and 345 lbs. Brown can blot out the sun when he fires off to run block, and he has the length, strength, and deft footwork to lock out most defenders when Mahomes drops back to pass. Jonathon Cooper has been a phenom since he found his way to playing time, but the Broncos’ rookie has a tough task this week because Brown has the length to lock him up from afar, erasing most of Cooper’s pass rush repertoire. The best way to beat Brown is with bend around the arc or forcing him to overset and crashing back inside considering he has the length to negate most of Cooper’s pass rush repertoire.

Joe Thuney signed an $80 million contract to become the Chiefs’ new left guard after spending the first five years of his career with the New England Patriots. The 29-year-old is a savvy pass protector, so much so it often overshadows how effective he is as a run blocker. He’ll be a formidable test for Shelby Harris’ return with his quick hands and anchor.

This time last year Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith were putting the wraps on their college careers, and now both rookies look like future Pro Bowlers and do a nice job handing off assignments. The lefty center looks like he’ll be able to match up against Mike Purcell’s burst and quickness off the snap, which means the Broncos’ veteran nose will have trouble creating run stuffs. The rookie right guard is a people mover on down blocks and has the athleticism to be a real problem if Reid dials up lead pulls. His power vs. Dre’Mont Jones’ quickness will be a matchup to watch.

With so much talent across the rest of the offensive line, the right tackle spot is the obvious weak spot. When he’s healthy, Lucas Niang is a solid run blocker, but the second-year pro has missed Kansas City’s last two games due to a rib injury and missed practice on Thursday. In Niang’s place, the Chiefs have relied on longtime guard Andrew Wylie. Whether it’s Wylie or Niang starting Sunday, the Broncos could find success attacking the right side, as both can be had stressing their drop with quickness from wide. Sunday Night represents a prime opportunity for Bradley Chubb to announce he’s officially back.

By the numbers, the Kansas City line is on the up and up. They’re currently 11th in the league in Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards. What’s most scary about that is the fact that the best could be yet to come. The talent up front lends itself to a gap-heavy scheme that would present a litany of issues for most of the rest of the league, but Reid has leaned heavily on his bread-and-butter inside zone thus far. Broncos Country ought to be hoping self-scouting during the bye week doesn’t lend itself to a shift in philosophy going forward.

Broncos’ LBs vs. Chiefs’ RBs

If Fangio leans into two high coverage shells to prevent explosive plays in the passing game, the Broncos will show the Chiefs plenty of light boxes. There will be plays where Kansas City runners get beyond the line of scrimmage, which means it will fall on the second and third level to prevent a four-yard gain from turning into a 10+ yard chunk play.

Baron Browning and Kenny Young were critical to the Broncos’ victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Young has clearly found his way in the Fangio scheme after George Paton acquired him a little over a month ago. His quick processing and sideline-to-sideline range made him a reliable stopper when the Bolts tried to run the ball. Browning was no slouch against the run and also held his own in coverage against Austin Ekeler and showed off his explosive athleticism in batting down a Justin Herbert pass.

Kansas City activated Clyde Edwards-Helaire off Injured Reserve before their game against the Dallas Cowboys, and he totaled 76 yards on 14 touches in his return. Faster than fast, the 2020 first round pick combines good vision with elusiveness, which can make him a chore to wrangle in space. He isn’t on Ekeler’s level as a route runner, but he has the footwork to create separation and reliable hands. CEH will split time with Darrell Williams, who started in the first rounder’s absence. Williams is a capable receiver and better runner than his paltry 3.6 average yards per carry number suggests. He’s among the 20 most efficient runners through 12 weeks by Football Outsiders’ DYAR statistic which adjusts for opponent strength, and only four spots behind the Broncos Melvin Gordon.

Final Thoughts

There’s little question the gameplan to stop Patrick Mahomes will create pain points for other parts of the roster. That’s what an elite quarterback does. If Fangio elects for a gameplan where the secondary lives in two high shells to keep the lid on the downfield passing game, it will bait Andy Reid into utilizing heavy personnel to batter the Broncos between tackles. Mahomes is surgical when he has time to set up in the pocket, so Reid could also emphasize RPOs and the quick passing game. Reid has options to counter punch, and a week off to prepare for the Broncos means he’ll have a gameplan tailor-made to move the ball regardless of Fangio’s best laid plans. To beat the Chiefs, Denver will need to put out the fires Reid sets in order to draw the Broncos out of two high.

Let’s hope they’re up to it.