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Broncos vs. Chiefs: Breaking down Denver’s game plan on Thursday

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Broncos have to be feeling good even though this is a short week. They are coming off back-to-back victories and with their 2-4 record, the Broncos are at home on Thursday night to face the 4-2 Chiefs.

This game is essentially the Broncos Super Bowl in 2019. They may not make a run at the playoffs this season, but beating the Chiefs at home would feel like a playoff win. In fact, with a fired-up crowd and an opposing superstar quarterback coming in after two losses in a row, this game could have the intensity of a playoff game.

Let’s take a look at how the Broncos will attack the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

The Broncos have a strong rushing attack featuring Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. While Lindsay is the lead back, Freeman gets plenty of work as a runner and has more receptions than Lindsay after six games.

They have a respectable 4.4 yards per carry average and they average 116 rushing yards per game. In this game against the Chiefs, the Broncos backfield has to lead the way.

That’s where Lindsay comes in as the most-dangerous weapon on the Broncos offense. The Broncos offensive line has improved as a run-blocking unit and Lindsay has scored four times in as many games while averaging 5.3 yards per carry over that span.

The run plays the Broncos use can be very simple as evidenced in this video of Colts running back Marlon Mack below. In the Colts win over the Chiefs, Mack led the way on the ground with a whopping 29 carries for 132 yards. Each one of those hard-fought carries is featured in this video.

The Chiefs rush defense is flat-out awful. Last week in their loss to the Texans, the Chiefs allowed 192 rushing yard and three rushing touchdowns. In 2019, the Chiefs are giving up the second-most rushing yards (136) per game.

Starting running backs are good for at least 99 yards rushing in five straight games against the Chiefs. This is where the Broncos must control the game, and they can use both Lindsay and Freeman to do just that.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

We are likely to see a lot of Courtland Sutton when the Broncos pass the ball. Sutton is the team’s leading receiver and is good for seven to nine targets per game so far in 2019. He is working all different routes and can be a presence in the red zone because of his size. Sutton has already cemented himself as the favorite target for quarterback Joe Flacco after leading the team in targets over the last four weeks.

Perhaps the Broncos can take some deep shots to Sutton like they in the play below. The Titans defense is tougher than the Chiefs defense at every level, so perhaps taking a few more of these deep shots is in order for the Broncos offense. Over the last two games, Sutton has averaged more than 20 yards per reception.

During the last two victories, Flacco and the passing game hasn’t done much. Flacco himself has averaged fewer than 190 yards passing and has two interceptions to just one touchdown during that time. The Broncos have won those two games, so the recipe for victory is clear – don’t push the ball through the air but instead win on the ground.

With Emmanuel Sanders battling a knee injury, the Broncos receiving group is a bit limited. This game could come down to lots of Sutton and the running backs as the primary targets for Flacco.

The Chiefs pass defense is stronger than their rush defense, but that’s not saying much. They have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in just two games this season and last week they held Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to just one passing touchdown and two interceptions. Those turnovers are something Flacco needs to avoid at all costs.

Last week, tight end Noah Fant should have had a bigger game. The Titans were not good at covering the tight end position and neither are the Chiefs in recent weeks. Their defense has given up the second-most receiving yards (72) and receptions (8) per game to the tight end position in 2019. Perhaps it’s time for Fant to finally have a big game for the team that took a chance on him in the first round.

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When the Chiefs Run the Ball

The Chiefs have a talented backfield with three running backs who all have different skill sets. LeSean McCoy is the seasoned veteran who can gash an opponent in the open field as a runner or receiver. Damien Williams runs with urgency and can make defenders miss, while Darrel Williams is a big-bodied power back who can blast through holes with ease.

However, during the last two weeks, this trio has amassed just 73 yards on the ground from 18 rushing attempts. This team abandons the run because they have a superstar quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes is a little banged up (ankle) and playing on a short week, the Chiefs might have more of a commitment to the ground game against Denver.

In the play below, you see how they use deception before the handoff to McCoy. This should be the plan against Denver to confuse the defense and perhaps open up a rushing lane for any one of their three talented runners.

Denver’s defense was embarrassed a few weeks ago against Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars. However, during the last two weeks, they have been playing good football – mainly because of two new starters on defense. Mike Purcell has been a fine run-stuffing defensive tackle while Alexander Johnson has been an upgrade over Josey Jewell at inside linebacker.

Other than the big game to Fournette, the Broncos have held every other lead running back they have faced to less than 3.7 yards per carry. This run defense is getting better and may shut down the Chiefs three-headed backfield on Thursday night.

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When the Chiefs Pass the Ball

There are a ton of receiving weapons for Mahomes to look to. Speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill came back from injury last week against the Texans and had a big game with two touchdowns off of 10 targets. Hill should be covered by Chris Harris Jr. in what should be an epic showdown of two star players.

So if Mahomes doesn’t go to Hill as much as he did last week, who does he go after the most against Denver? Tight end Travis Kelce.

The Broncos have yet to face a superstar playmaker at the tight end position like Kelce. Arguably the best tight end in the game today, Kelce has the size to create mismatches against a safety and he can outrun most linebackers tasked with covering him. If the Broncos use Kareem Jackson to cover him, Kelce can win with size, wingspan and leaping ability. If the Broncos use Johnson or Todd Davis to cover him, then he’ll beat either one with speed. Simply put, it’s going to be tough to slow Kelce down.

In the play below, you can see how Mahomes has poor mechanics when he goes to throw yet still finds a way to get the pass on time and on target to Kelce.

Mahomes has other speedy receivers like Demarcus Robinson or Mecole Hardman to target since Hill could be covered by Hill and Sammy Watkins is out with a hamstring injury. The Broncos rush has to get home and pressure Mahomes early and often. This is where Von Miller and his elite-level game must come into play.

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Summary

The Broncos have to run the ball to come out on top. The hashtag #FeedPhil has to start trending on Thursday and the Broncos need to give Lindsay the largest workload he’s ever seen in a game to give themselves the best chance to win.

The defense may not be able to stop Kelce or one of the other speedy receivers not named Hill on Thursday. Even if they take care of Hill with Harris, there’s simply too much firepower on this offense to shut them down. Add in Mahomes and his ability to create a big play out of nothing and you can see how this is going to be a difficult game to win.

I would love to pick the Broncos in this game. My heart loves the idea of how this season could turn around for the team during just the last 11 days. The 0-4 start to begin the season was rough, but there have been signs of life over the last two weeks.

However, my head tells me this team is not good enough to beat the Chiefs unless a lot goes their way and the Broncos play a perfect game. I don’t see that happening, so I have the Chiefs winning a close one by the score of 27-23 on Thursday night.

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All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Game screenshots from NFL Game Pass. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.