Three to Focus on: Chiefs @ Broncos, Week 17

| December 30, 2011

While the 2010 AFC West division champion Chiefs won’t be repeating the feat this year, they are in a position to help determine who will represent the division in the postseason. The Raiders, who eliminated Kansas City last week, must now rely on the Chiefs doing them a favor by beating Denver. No one will be more motivated to keep the Broncos out of the postseason than Kyle Orton, who never had the full support of the Broncos fan base from the moment he was thrown into the Jay Cutler trade.

The last time these teams met, in Week 10, was the game in which Tim Tebow threw eight passes and completed only two. The Broncos ran the ball 55 times with no pretense of a passing game and still racked up 244 yards, which along with a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker (-5.4) was just enough to get a win. Denver has tried to balance the offense more in recent weeks but haven’t had great results, so they might try to get back to what they do best against a team they had no problem running on before. Since the Chiefs have already experienced the Broncos’ read option attack, though, I’d expect Denver to favor a more traditional approach running the ball with some option plays mixed in.

Both starting quarterbacks have downplayed the hype, but Tebow Vs. Orton in a decisive Week 17 game is an undeniably appealing storyline. Will Tebow best his predecessor and prove once and for all the Broncos made the right choice in making the move to Tebow and eventually releasing Orton? Or will Orton exact vengeance on the team that never seemed satisfied with him as its starting quarterback by doing his part to keep Denver out of the Playoffs? Let’s turn our attention to a few of the matchups that will determine the answers to those questions.

 

Broncos’ Run Blocking vs. Chiefs’ Run Defense

Considering Denver ran the ball 55 times in their last meeting, it won’t come as any surprise if Denver heavily favors the run here. The difference is that the Chiefs have already played a full game against their read option attack and with all that film to study they should be prepared to defend it. Consequently the Broncos will probably have to use the option less and rely on power running rather than finesse. For the Broncos’ offensive line, of which every starter grades negatively in run-blocking, it will a challenge to handle the large bodies up front, while leaving linemen free to get to the second level.

In the Week 10 matchup, the Chiefs’ defensive line mostly did their jobs and the starters combined for 12 stops. With 55 runs to defend though, a few mistakes here and there, opened up opportunities for some big plays. Tyson Jackson (+8.3) had five of those stops, but was also blocked by one man on more than one occasion, allowing the Broncos to get bodies on the linebackers and churn out yardage. Whether or not Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, or Kelly Gregg is able to consistently force the Broncos to double-team them will likely be a major factor in the Broncos’ ability to move the ball on offense. J.D. Walton (-26.5) had his best game of the year working against Gregg earlier this season so he is a player worth watching on that offensive line.

 

An Opportunity for Von Miller to Cement DROY Award

With the “what have you done for me lately” sentiment that pervades the NFL, the once-unthinkable possibility of Von Miller (+52.5) falling short of the Defensive Rookie of the Year award is now plausible, if Miller has another poor outing and Aldon Smith plays well, possibly breaking the rookie sack record. After recording pressure in each of his first 12 games with a lightning-quick first step, Miller hasn’t been able to get pressure even once in his last two games. His all-around game has suffered since having surgery to repair ligaments in his thumb, not just his pass rush. Miller has recorded only one defensive stop in each of the last two games, an output he failed to exceed only once previously. Obviously the cast on his hand is affecting him, but Miller has an excellent opportunity to rebound and finish strong. Miller tends to rush predominantly from the left side of the defense, which bodes well for any pass rusher playing the Chiefs. Kansas City right tackle Barry Richardson (-39.6) grades out as the worst right tackle in the NFL—good thing they got rid of Jared Gaither right—and has the eighth-worst Pass Blocking Efficiency rating among qualifying tackles. He allowed two pressures to Miller in Week 10 and six in all. If Miller can’t get back on track working against the likes of Richardson, he probably won’t be the same player until next season when the cast is gone.

 

Run, Run, Run…and Deep Ball?

Don’t expect to see either of these teams come out and throw the ball 40+ times if they don’t have to, but that isn’t to say the passing game won’t play a vital role. Even in the Week 10 meeting, when Denver completed only two passes, one was a 56-yard touchdown and half of the eight pass attempts were deep balls. Last week, Kansas City lost the game because, once again, the deep ball. First it was Jacoby Ford’s touchdown in regulation and then Darrius Heyward-Bey’s catch in overtime gave Sebastian Janikowski an easy field goal attempt. Kendrick Lewis and Reshard Langford were the guilty parties on those receptions and you have to figure Denver will test them at least once or twice throughout the course of the game.

The Chiefs may dial up a deep ball or two themselves with the skaky status of the Denver defensive backfield. Brian Dawkins (+2.3) is something of an enigma at this point with another neck injury and may have played his last snap for Denver. Rookie Quinton Carter (-11.8) is day-to-day with a hamstring injury and has allowed 73% of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed. The Chiefs have some receivers with deep ability, so it would be a surprise if they didn’t test the rookie safeties, assuming Carter makes the start alongside Rahim Moore (-7.2).

 

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