These are the kinds of matchups we dream about.
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, AFC West rivals fighting for divisional – and likely conference – superiority.
These two teams hate each other, at least they should, given the history of the rivalry and what’s currently on the line.
What this game presents is the awesome offense against the dynamic defense; it only makes the buildup of Sunday Night’s game that much more exciting.
In the Mile High City resides the NFL’s top offense. Of this season, yes, but also all-time if you rank them by points scored. 41.2 points per game? That’s remarkable, extraordinary, unheard of.
Lining up against them will be the NFL’s top defense. The Chiefs allow a mere 12.3 points per.
The unstoppable force versus the immovable object? Which one will win?
In today’s NFL, it will be the Broncos.
Simply, Denver has Peyton Manning, who is performing at a higher level than any quarterback in the history of the league while making a case he’s the greatest QB to ever lace up cleats. Even if they may be harder to get on this week, over swollen, sore ankles.
Manning is magnificent at reading defenses, he could teach a clinic on the subject to aspiring elite quarterbacks. Like Alex Smith, for one.
Here’s what the Chiefs want to do to Manning’s offense: blitz him and play physically with the receivers. Kansas City has the cornerbacks to matchup and jam the Broncos’ receivers at the line of scrimmage, which will only derail their routes and throw off the necessary timing. If they can do just that, Manning won’t be able to get the ball away quickly, which will be of high importance this Sunday night.
That’s because Kansas City possesses the best pass-rushing defense around, racking up a total of 36 sacks through nine weeks. That’s an average of four per game and doesn’t account for the many hurries and hits opposing quarterbacks take as well. Outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have accounted for 20 sacks together, creating a dominating edge-rush combination much like the one we saw in Denver last season.
Those battles in the trenches, between Houston and Orlando Franklin as well as Hali versus backup-turned-starter Chris Clark, will determine if Manning has the appropriate time to read and react to the defense, step and make a throw. And even when Manning does get the ball off, the Chiefs are tied for second in the league with 64 passes defended and 12 interceptions, meaning he’ll have to be as accurate as possible.
But Manning won’t just be a pushover; he didn’t practice on Wednesday, and you can bet the Broncos quarterback is spending much time watching film on the Chiefs defense. He’s going to see when they want to blitz, and when they do, he’ll check into a variety of plays at his disposal.
Knowshon Moreno’s versatility will be key; he’s able to run, pass-block or catch passes out of the backfield to keep the defense honest. The Broncos will need him to do all three well if they want to put up another high score. It’s likely we will see more screens to Moreno this week than at any other time this season, and they’ve proven to work on the Chiefs in recent weeks when deployed by the Buffalo Bills and others.
Moreno won’t be the only one, though, Manning will almost certainly look to tight ends Julius Thomas and Joel Dreessen during crucial plays as well. While Denver usually utilizes the 11 personnel package (one running back, one tight end with three receivers), it seems likely they’ll go more 12 (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) to help the banged-up offensive line protect Peyton. That means Wes Welker’s role will likely be smaller in this game, while “Orange Julius” and Dreessen could be consistently targeted on short and medium-length routes.
Manning’s hit Thomas on seem routes against blitzes with success this season, look for that to continue this Sunday night.
And there’s another explosive weapon the Broncos could unleash on the Chiefs; the Demaryius Thomas bubble screen. Thomas has shown he has superior speed, especially when getting him the ball early and letting the 6’4” receiver get into full stride. On a blitz against the Chargers last week, Manning avoided a leaping defender’s arm, getting the ball to DT as multiple offensive linemen and receivers created a convoy of blockers to clear the way for the untouched touchdown.
When the game gets underway Sunday night, the Broncos will be ready, they’ll have a gameplan of how to score on the Chiefs. They’ll use screens and two tight end sets, and if they’re caught off guard, they’ll check to a run. When it comes down to the best defense and best offense battling, Manning and the Broncos are a safe bet.
Rich Kurtzman is cover32’s Denver Broncos Managing Editor. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichKurtzman).