The Chiefs and Broncos match-up this Sunday in a highly anticipated week 11 rematch. They both come into the game at (9-2). The winner of this game can not only claim the AFC West, but will also remain at least a game ahead of the New England Patriots for the No. 1 seed.
The Chiefs’ defense is still number one in our PFF cumulative rankings. They have had a drop off over the last few weeks though. As a team team, they have graded -7 or worse in pass coverage the last two weeks. This has cut their overall pass coverage grade in half. Marcus Cooper has been the main corner picked on recently and Brandon Flowers is yet to return to peak form. They have also struggled to generate pressure in the last few weeks. The injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will not help their cause. The Chiefs could use a little extra push up the middle from Dontari Poe this week. The Chiefs offense struggled in the last meeting and the KC receivers didn’t do Alex Smith any favors. He actually did take some shots down the field, but had too many passes dropped. Look for the Chiefs offense to also try to get Jamal Charles more active in the passing game. He had just two receptions for negative yardage in the last meeting.
The Broncos’ offense is still tops in our PFF cumulative rankings, even though Peyton Manning has cooled off a bit since his record pace at the start. The Chiefs were hoping for a cold day at Arrowhead (to keep Manning uncomfortable), but the forecast is for about 45 degrees. This should keep the Broncos’ offense on schedule. The Bronco defense is still playing well overall, though Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard struggled a bit in coverage last week but are going to attempt to get back to form this week. Overall, the Broncos will try to repeat their performance from the last KC game. They want to contain Charles and not give up any big plays. They are also hoping the production of Shaun Phillips can continue. Phillips has played very well, and over the last two games has eight stops, two sacks, and four hurries. If his production can continue it will take additional pressure off of Von Miller.
Von Miller vs. Chief’s Tackles
Von Miller is our top-rated 4-3 outside linebacker on the year. He has 31 pressures, and his 15.4 Pass Rushing Productivity is on pace with all of the league’s top edge rushers. The Chiefs were able to keep him quiet in their week 11 matchup. Sam Monson took a look at some of the things the Chiefs did in his analysis notebook here. Let’s see if the Broncos are able to make adjustments or if the Chiefs are able to use some of the same tactics to slow him down.
Eric Fisher struggled in the last Denver game — allowing two sacks and five hurries — and has struggled overall in his rookie year as his -19.9 overall grade ranks 75th out of 79 tackles. Out injured last week against San Diego, Fisher should be back for this game. If not, Donald Stephenson should get some time at right tackle. He has graded poorly for the year but played pretty well against the chargers with a +2.1 overall grade. Miller should see most of his time, though, working on the left side of the Kansas City offensive line where Branden Albert carries our second-highest pass blocking grade out of all left tackles. The Chiefs were able to slow down Miller in the last meeting. Will they be able to do it again?
KC Outside Linebackers vs. Denver Tackles
Justin Houston will be out for this week’s game. He had his best game of the season in the last meeting. His 10 tackles, eight stops, three hurries, and two batted passes paced the Kansas City defense. He impact is not only felt in the passing game. His eight stops against the run in the last game led all Chiefs. This year his 21 run stops ranks him fourth out of all OLBs. Tamba Hali could also be slowed down by an ankle injury suffered in the Chargers game. These two have combined for 124 pressures and 21 sacks (easily the top pass rushing duo in the league). Replacing Houston, and possibly subbing in for Hali at times will be Desman Moses and Frank Zombo. This is not good news for Chiefs fans. In 2012, Moses ranked 24th out of 32 OLBs in overall PFF grade. In 2010 (the last time Zombo had consistent game experience) he ranked 33rd out of 35 in overall grade. Neither of these two has ever finished higher than 24th in Pass Rushing Productivity either. It could be a reach to expect any impact from either of these two.
The Broncos counter with Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark. Each of these players carries a pass blocking grade of +10 or higher coming into this game. Franklin’s 97.2 Pass Blocking Efficiency is tied for first in the league. Chris Clark’s 95.6 efficiency ranks 12th out of all tackles. Clark has stepped right in and made the season ending injury to Ryan Clady more palatable. Throw in Peyton Manning’s quick release (he averages only 2.35 seconds from snap to throw, tops in the league) and the Chiefs could have a rough time generating pressure in this game.
Marcus Cooper vs. Denver Receivers
Marcus Cooper, the seventh-round rookie corner from Rutgers, had been playing very well this year up until the first Bronco game. Peyton Manning made it a point to attack Marcus Cooper. He has now graded negatively in two straight games. He was -5.8 in the first meeting between these teams, allowing six of 13 passes to be completed for 128 yards. His day could have been even worse if Alex Smith could have completed a couple throws down the sidelines. Last week he was attacked again, this time by Philip Rivers. He allowed over 100 yards for the second straight game and netted a -3.3 grade.
Manning will have plenty of options to throw at Cooper. Wes Welker will see most of his time in the slot against Brandon Flowers, but Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker should get plenty of time matched up with Cooper. Thomas carries PFFs sixth-highest grade for a receiver this year at +13.8. He has almost 1000 receiving yards and 10 TDs already. Decker hasn’t rated as highly as Thomas but is still always dangerous with 55 receptions for almost 800 yards. Denver made it no secret that they wanted to attack Cooper early and often in the first match-up. Expect him to get the same treatment here. If he’s able to pick up his play it will give the KC pass rushers a little extra time to get to Peyton Manning.
You can follow Chris on Twitter: @PFF_CPhillips