For two weeks a year every year, Broncos Country battens down the hatches as they prepare for two of the most important rivalry games of the year, when the Denver Broncos face the Kansas City Chiefs. As the team prepares to welcome the reigning Super Bowl Champions to Empower Field at Mile High, a somewhat disquieting number of factors are at play in determining who will emerge the victors. Can the Denver Broncos beat Kansas City? It is certainly no easy task, but it is not impossible for the young and hungry 2020 Broncos to at least prove they will not back down from the fight.
Denver Broncos Can Beat Kansas City Chiefs
Contextualizing Opposing Forces
After defeating the New England Patriots this past weekend, the Broncos are riding the longest win streak in the division. Like with their upcoming Week 7 tilt with the Chiefs, the Broncos were not afforded the confidence of most pundits and fans heading into their postponed game against the Patriots. Despite entering as underdogs and scoring exclusively via the leg of Brandon McManus, the team never ceded the lead in the entire sixty minutes of the game, leading by as much as 15 at one point.
On the other side, the Chiefs are undefeated on the road and have scored 24 more points than the second-highest scoring team in the division. Le’Veon Bell should join the active roster for Kansas City’s journey into Denver, and with the rest of the offense seemingly starting to fire on all cylinders, the Chiefs should offer the biggest litmus test of the season for the Broncos.
But, even with a two-game winning streak in hand, the Broncos are once again underdogs, and nearly double-digit underdogs at that.
Will the Broncos Beat Themselves?
In quarterback Drew Lock’s return to the field this past weekend, the sophomore passer failed to surpass 50 percent completion percentage for the first time in his NFL career. Despite this fact, the team won resoundingly. Even with that victory though, the team nearly cost themselves the win by continuously shooting themselves in the foot, a staple of Broncos football since Peyton Manning’s retirement after winning Super Bowl 50.
Lock made several mistakes, including forcing a number of passes to Albert Okwuegbunam. While this can be forgiven, being his first game back from injury, and in light of the number one wide receiver and tight end both being injured, it often prevented himself from reading the whole field. This is a problematic trend to keep an eye on going forward.
An example of this tunnel vision came late in the game when the offense successfully got the secondary to bite on a play-action. Jerry Jeudy ran an unbelievable route, creating over six yards of separation and leaving the defensive back in his dust as he flashed wide open across the middle of the field 20 yards past the line of scrimmage; and then he watched Drew Lock heave the ball incomplete deep up the left seam to the back of the endzone.
To beat the Chiefs, the Broncos will need to spread the ball out and get their multiple playmakers the rock in space.
Hands Like a Digital Clock
Lock’s dependence on Okwuegbunam is relatively unsurprising considering their shared experience on the same offense at their alma mater of Missouri. But that tunnel vision is not the only example of the Broncos shooting themselves in the foot. The league’s worst drop rate is another factor at play that may also contribute to Lock’s reliance on the rookie tight end, especially when one realizes no less than three perfectly thrown touchdown passes were dropped on Sunday.
The league’s average drop rate is one drop every 14.45 catchable passes. Denver’s drop rate is a dropped pass every 8.31 catchable passes. Between Okwuegbunam and Hamilton’s costly drops and Jerry Jeudy’s periodic drop issues thus far, the team needs to place a premium on concentration this week. Continuing to drop passes at this inexplicably problematic rate is a surefire way to get blown out by the Chiefs.
How the Broncos Beat Kansas City
Many members of Broncos Country point to this week’s potential return of such names as Noah Fant, K.J. Hamler, A.J. Bouye, Melvin Gordon III, DeMarcus Walker, and Dre’Mont Jones as the core of Denver’s hopes for victory.
Noah Fant’s return will help reestablish some of Lock’s comfortability and chemistry. Melvin Gordon’s return will improve pass protection and the receiving game out of the backfield. A.J. Bouye’s return will bolster the secondary which will allow Bryce Callahan to more work in the slot. The return of these players would help the Broncos against the Chiefs.
The Broncos have never lost a game when Phillip Lindsay rushes for 100 yards or more. Never. Even if Melvin Gordon successfully returns for Sunday’s game, the team must continue to feed Lindsay the rock. Gordon is undeniably the superior option in the backfield as far as the passing attack is concerned, but Lindsay is the team’s best pure runner (as he proved by averaging about 4.4 yards per carry against the Patriots). As such, Pat Shurmur needs to find a way to get Lindsay a similar number of touches against Kansas City.
Running the football allows the team to control the clock better and it allows the defense to remain well rested, while keeping Patrick Mahomes on the sideline. That is a win-win-win. A well fed rushing attack also allows Drew Lock to use his athleticism and arm strength on play-action passes to keep a group of opportunistic defenders honest. A strong running game will allow Lock to settle back into rhythm easier, which will hopefully yield a stronger overall performance in terms of completion percentage, yards per attempt, and ball security.
So far, Pat Shurmur’s 2020 Broncos offense is suffering from similar shortcomings to his 2019 New York Giants squad, both on the field and in terms of his play calling. To beat Kansas City, the Broncos will need to be better both on the field and in the booth.
Without a win over Kansas City since September of 2015, the Denver Broncos have a lot on their plate this week. The possible return of some injured players should help light a fire under the team, but it will take a whole lot more than fire to beat the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Beating the Chiefs with Kansas City at nearly full force is a different ballgame than beating the New England Patriots on two weeks of preparation, and the Broncos would do well to remember that and prepare and play accordingly.
It is certainly true there are no moral victories in the NFL, and even if the team should take pride in any successes it derives from its bout with the Chiefs, they need to give everything they have toward using discipline in conjunction with their talent and skill to leave it all on the field.
Can the Denver Broncos beat Kansas City? Yes, absolutely.
But will they?
The answer will be provided on Sunday.