The Chiefs will try to sweep the season series against a division opponent for the first time this season when they host the Denver Broncos (3-4) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. A win would improve the Chiefs’ record to 7-1 overall and 3-0 in the AFC West.
The Broncos gave the Chiefs one of their toughest tests of the season earlier this month on Monday Night Football in Denver, and the Broncos should be as familiar with quarterback Patrick Mahomes as any team in the NFL. He’ll be making his third start against the Broncos in his ninth career game.
Here are keys to victory and the vital information you need to know about the Broncos’ scheme/coaching staff.
1. Pass protection
One of the Chiefs’ top priorities, if not the top priority, on offense must be pass protection with an emphasis on blocking off the edge. The Broncos’ top two edge rushers have accounted for 14 sacks so far this season. However, the Chiefs will have two starters in the middle of the line who began the season as backups, including their center, Austin Reiter, who’ll be responsible for making calls at the line of scrimmage.
2. Get them off the field
The defense needs to minimize the number of long drives the Broncos piece together. The Broncos’ running game is capable of dominating time of possession and limiting the number of scoring opportunities for the Chiefs’ offense. Last time they met, the Chiefs held the Broncos to 2-of-11 on third down to help facilitate their comeback. However, the Broncos had two drives of 60 yards or more in the second quarter, as well as one of 80 yards in the third quarter.
3. Protect the football
The Broncos have forced 11 turnovers in seven games this season. Mahomes has thrown five interceptions in the past three weeks, including two apiece in games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. With the Broncos likely to put pressure on Mahomes, and a solid defensive backfield in coverage, decision-making could be crucial to the Chiefs not shooting themselves in the foot.
4. Put it in Case Keenum’s hands
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum has posted a 81.0 quarterback rating so far this season, and he enters the weekend with more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight). The Chiefs’ defense will become increasingly dangerous if they can force the Broncos to put game in Keenum’s hands. While the Broncos do have talent at wide receiver, Keenum rates 28th among qualifying passers in the NFL this season.
Second-year head coach Vance Joseph came up through the coaching ranks as a defensive backs coach before becoming the Miami Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016. He switched offensive coordinators, firing Mike McCoy, and starting quarterbacks going into his second season as head coach. This season, the Broncos’ offense ranks fourth in the NFL in plays of 20 yards or more (30 pass, 6 rush). The Broncos have been the only team to hold the Chiefs to fewer than 30 points this season.
Former NFL quarterback Bill Musgrave is in his first full season at the helm of the Broncos’ offense. Through seven games this season, the Broncos rank second in the NFL in yards per rush (5.1), and they’re one of the teams that still uses a fullback with some frequency. Fullback Andy Janovich played 28 percent of Denver’s offensive snaps in the previous game between the teams. The Broncos had success running out of both a one-back and two-back set, and they built off that running-game production to take shots down the field with play-action.
Joe Woods, a second-year defensive coordinator, is in charge of the Broncos’ 3-4 base defense. His unit comes into this weekend tied for second in the NFL in sacks (22), led by Von Miller (7.5) and Bradley Chubb (6.5). The defensive unit is tied with the Chiefs for the most defensive touchdowns (16) over the past three years (including playoffs). In their previous meeting against the Chiefs, the Broncos brought blitzers from various angles, including from both the linebackers and the secondary, to apply pressure on Mahomes.