Re-Focused – Broncos @ Chiefs, Week 10

| November 15, 2011

Another Broncos victory, another week of endless stories about Tim Tebow (+1.6).Thankfully, all players are given equal consideration at PFF, so you won’t have to read solely about Tebow in this Re-focused. Indeed, it was the Denver defense that won this game for the Broncos, with the help of another 200+ yard team rushing effort despite early injuries to Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno (+1.3).

Tebow didn’t complete a pass until the 4:35 mark in the third quarter and didn’t even attempt one in the entire first quarter. The Broncos’ one-dimensional offense, however, did enough to outpace the struggling Chiefs’ offense, despite running the ball a whopping 55 times. It seems Denver has openly embraced an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy, and though it’s hard to imagine them having sustained success with this style of play, the results speak for themselves right now. After being one of the worst units in 2010, the Broncos’ defense has evolved to the point that it can keep the team in most games, and as long as that remains true, the Broncos will at least have a chance to win by running the ball like they have been. What happens if the defense doesn’t control the game for the offense? Look no further than the Detroit game in Week 8.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ defense must similarly compensate now that the Tyler Palko era has begun. Palko steps into an offense that has scored one touchdown in the last two games. Matt Cassel may very well have played his last snap in Kansas City and Palko will probably never have another chance to lead a team to a division title if he fails this time. Now, onto the usual fame-or-blame game.

 

Broncos: Three Performances of Note

What rookie wall?

I really wanted to avoid discussing Von Miller (+7.5) yet again (he’s turning into PFF’s Tebow) but while we keep waiting for his performances to level off and him to hit the rookie wall, he continues to improve while turning in dominant efforts. Against the Chiefs, Miller laid a shot on the quarterback five times (including one sack) and picked up three pressures besides. It’s amazing how quickly he can get into the backfield, and this was demonstrated early and often in Kansas City. At one point in the first quarter, he was graded positively on four consecutive plays, a sequence that ended with the sack. On that play, Miller fought through a pair of blocks so quickly that by the time Cassel saw the rush and tried to evade, he was already being brought to the ground. Our top-ranked 4-3 OLB made a few plays in the run game as well – including a tackle for loss on the first drive – and didn’t make any glaring mistakes typical of a rookie. Now with a +34.7 overall cumulative grade, will Miller ever hit that rookie wall this season or continue soaring to new heights?

 

An emerging defense

For a defense that was as bad as Denver was last year, it must feel good to influence a game positively instead of negatively. The ground game deserves plenty of credit for putting up 17 points without the threat of the pass, but 17 points won’t win most games and the defense was the true cause of the Broncos victory. Seven Broncos graded in the green on defense, and several had their best games of the season. left defensive end Robert Ayers (+4.4) was active in both run defense and pass rush, making two tackles for a short gain in the run game and pressuring Cassel three times in 16 pass rush attempts. Middle linebacker Joe Mays (+4.8) played every snap after rotating out in certain packages for several weeks and celebrated his increased playing time with by far his best game of the year. Undrafted free agent slot cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (+3.6) has graded in the green in three of the five games he’s played and broke up a pass while limiting receivers to four catches for 33 yards in his coverage. This defense hit Cassel 13 times over the course of the game, and defensive performances like that will give any team a great chance to win.

 

A weak link in the running game

When you run the ball 55 times in one game, you need more than the five big guys up front to have any kind of success. When the opposing team knows you are running and rushes more bodies than the five linemen can pick up, somebody has to be able to pick up those extra rushers. Tight end Daniel Fells (-4.7) was not that person against the Chiefs. Fells was worked over by an assortment of Chiefs in the run game and was responsible for a number of failed runs. He also drew an illegal block in the back penalty that was declined because he still wasn’t able to propel the runner for a first down. These few bad plays wouldn’t be so bad, but he failed to make an impact throughout the entire game even when he wasn’t making mistakes. Dante Rosario (-2.0) didn’t acquit himself any better. When there’s no good, only average and bad, you have a problem at the position and if the Broncos intend to continue running the ball as heavily as they have been, they’ll need to get better blocking from positions outside of the offensive line.

 

Chiefs: Three Performances of Note

Missed opportunities

“What if” was the theme of the game for Kansas City. Jonathon Baldwin, Dwyane Bowe (-2.4), and Dexter McCluster each dropped a pass and Bowe couldn’t reach far enough to haul in another that would’ve gained decent yardage. Baldwin made a dazzling catch behind the back of Brian Dawkins deep downfield that didn’t count because of a penalty. The defense missed seven tackles, each from a different player to spread the damage. Considering the final score was separated by a mere touchdown, it’s a disappointing loss for a Chiefs team that knows those missed opportunities could have turned the tide of the game completely.

 

About time for a benching?

Right tackle Barry Richardson (-6.6) has displayed some horrible performances in a Chiefs uniform. This most recent one marks the third time this season Richardson has graded at -6.0 or worse, which, frankly, indicates that he’s just not that good of a tackle. So how much longer can Richardson turn in these kind of games before the Chiefs go to Jared Gaither, either at right tackle himself or by moving Brandon Albert there and inserting Gaither on the left. Gaither has shown he can get it done in the past and though he is something of an enigma right now, wouldn’t it be better to see if he can still play than to let the guy who rarely if ever plays at a high level continue inhibiting the offense? Poor pass protection over the last few weeks has already cost Cassel some time and potentially the season. Sooner or later, Richardson is going to run out of opportunities.

 

Young defenders provide silver lining

After losing their starting quarterback as well as the game, there isn’t much for the Chiefs to take away from this one in a positive context. One thing they can be happy about though is the encouraging play of two of their young defenders, OLB Justin Houston (+2.8) and FS Kendrick Lewis (+2.3). The rookie Houston played the most snaps in any single game he’s played yet, and took advantage of the opportunity by turning in his first game graded in the green. He made four defensive stops, beating Broncos tight ends with ease to close on the ball carrier. Three of the four players that saw at least one snap at tight end for the Broncos were graded negatively on at least one play thanks to Houston. Second-year safety Lewis had his best game of the season with a missed tackle being his only negative play in the game. He broke up two of the eight passes Tebow attempted, including a deep attempt to Eric Decker and also made a defensive stop in the run game.

 

Game Notes:

- Moreno was the Broncos highest-graded runner on the day despite only playing five snaps, thanks to a hurdling run over Brandon Flowers that put the team in position for their first touchdown.

- Not to add insult to injury, but Cassel completed one of seven passes aimed 10 yards or more downfield and averaged 3.3 yards per attempt against the Broncos’ suddenly fearsome pass rush.

- Rookie MLB Nate Irving saw his first snap on defense and picked up a QB hit when he was the only player to not bite on the play-action on Cassel’s touchdown pass.

 

PFF Game Ball

Again, we don’t want to heap accolades on Von Miller and discuss him in every single Re-focused, but as long as his play warrants these things he will continue to receive them. Miller’s presence has turned the Broncos from one of the worst defenses in the league into a truly intimidating one—no small feat for one man.

 

 

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