On Sunday Night Football, the nation will once again get to watch the current MVP favorite, Patrick Mahomes. His play over the last four games just earned him the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. Turning the page to December, these AFC West rivals are once again on much different paths. The Kansas City Chiefs is atop the division at 10-1, looking primed for another strong shot at winning the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos are 4-7 and are coming off of their largest loss of the season.
Questions have already started to swirl about Drew Lock‘s future as Broncos QB. And we have only seen him start 13 career games. John Elway has not been shy about continuing to swing the bat on fixing the position. This stretch will be big for him. Denver’s offense was also already last in the league in DVOA, before they had to use Kendall Hinton as their emergency QB last week. Recent history has also not been too kind to the Broncos in this rivalry. The Chiefs have won ten consecutive meetings. Just in the three games against head coach Vic Fangio, Kansas City has outscored them 96-25. One of those saw Mahomes leave early with an injury. Now, let’s dive into our three keys to victory for each team on Sunday night.
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Kansas City- 3 Keys To Victory
1) Blitz Lock Constantly
The Chiefs saw an improvement in their pass rush last week in Tampa. Chris Jones and Frank Clark were able to make the quarterback feel the heat quickly. Defensive backs also found opportunities to land free shots on the passer as the ball was being thrown. Those chances could likely increase this week.
Entering Sunday, Lock’s numbers are worse across the board in categories like average yards per attempt, bad throw percentage, on target percentage and others. The one that sticks out the most, is his passer rating under pressure. His completion percentage is also down from 64% to 55%. Some of that is due to a greater sample size. But, Lock is holding on to the ball too long and looking for the big play too often.
Kansas City came away with three sacks and got plenty of pressure on Lock earlier this season. They must be willing to keep the blitz calls coming constantly with increased looks, in order to stifle the Denver offense. The Chiefs have accounted for 13 sacks, with zero touchdown passes and three interceptions against Fangio’s Broncos. This is a perfect chance for this unit to get rolling in that regard for the home stretch of the regular season.
2) Pound The Middle
This Denver defense is more vulnerable against passes over the middle of the field. Mahomes and Travis Kelce have had some huge performances against them in the past. This may be the area that Andy Reid would like to attack the most. Safety Justin Simmons is still playing at a high level. However, the linebacker group of Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell and Malik Reed are better when playing downhill. Asking them to drop in coverage constantly will lead to open looks for the speedsters like Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins or Mecole Hardman after the catch. Just like last week against the Buccaneers corners, the Chiefs must continue to go right after the Broncos’ back seven in that area of the field. Don’t let sneaky corners like AJ Bouye or Michael Ojemudia get shots to make a play on the football.
3) Contain Lindsay
The running game of the Broncos has been quietly good for a mediocre offense this season. While Melvin Gordon can certainly outmuscle defenders, the Chiefs must be most aware of Phillip Lindsay on SNF. The former Colorado Buffaloes ball carrier is ninth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.0). His cutback/put your foot in the ground and burst style is the exact type that gives Kansas City fits. The problem for Lindsay is, injuries and game script have limited his carries to just 82 on the season. The Chiefs defense has to shut him down before he gets rolling, and in turn help lessen his possible attempts. He has been dealing with a knee injury. Though if he’s on the field, Lindsay will be giving it is all with the fiery nature that he displays.
Denver- 3 Keys To Victory
1) In The Zone
Man coverage attempts did nothing to stop the Chiefs offense last week. Zone coverage usage has been most effective against Mahomes. And quite frankly, the Denver defense can win frequently with those looks. Having hybrid and scheme versatile players like the aforementioned Malik Reed, Bradley Chubb and Kareem Jackson could work in their favor. Clogging up throwing lanes and doubling guys like Hill or Kelce is going to increase your chances at holding down the Chiefs offense. Fangio is one of the more bright defensive minds around the league. Expect him to have some tricks up his sleeve in this one.
2) Need For Speed
The Broncos added Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in this past April’s draft. In this matchup, it would not hurt to let these guys get primary looks down the field. Jeudy is one of the niftier route runners that have entered the league in a long time. Largely, he has not been able to truly showcase that. Hamler could also create havoc with an increased look on schemed touches. For Denver, try to catch the Chiefs defense sleeping with deep shots to these two and see what happens. They added those players for games against these kind of opponents. Now is the time for the Broncos to take advantage of it against the Kansas City Chiefs.
3) Take Care Of Little Things
This one may seem obvious, but the Broncos have been plagued by horrid special teams play and turnovers in recent matchups against KC. A fumble on flea flicker attempts for example, have snowballed into multiple giveaways. And you cannot spot points in gimme situations, especially in this one. Just in the three games under Fangio, Denver is -4 in turnover margin against the Chiefs. Kicker Brandon McManus has missed his share of field goals or extra points. The Broncos cannot beat themselves more than they usually do in this Chiefs rivalry game.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.