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

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

What a fantastic joyride the last two weeks have been with the Broncos. Rookie quarterback Drew Lock has won both of the first two starts of his career, even going on the road last week against the Texans and putting in a historic performance.

In Week 15, however, the joyride and fun for Broncos Country could come to an end.

On Sunday, the Broncos travel to face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s one of the toughest places to play and that’s why only three Broncos quarterbacks in history have ever won in Kansas City during the month of December.

Will Lock become the fourth Broncos quarterback to achieve that feat, or will his winning ways come to a stop at the hands of a division opponent?

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

Phillip Lindsay could have a big game against the Chiefs. The Broncos rushing attack has had some games set up where they could have big days and didn’t come through. That’s why as we enter Week 15, the Broncos rank slightly below average with 106.9 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. They need to work to spring Lindsay against the Chiefs on Sunday.

He’s clearly their best back and is getting a majority of the workload since the team came out of their Week 10 bye. Since then, Lindsay has 62 carries to Royce Freeman’s 23.

During the last four weeks, Lindsay has averaged 3.8 yards per carry and only has one rushing touchdown during that time. He’s been a grinder as a ball-carrier and has not had a play (rush or reception) for more than 20 yards since Week 9. The Broncos need to find a way to spring Lindsay on Sunday.

Look at the middle push he gets on the play below. The offensive line does a great job of collapsing the defense in the middle, and Lindsay shows the proper patience to wait for his rushing lane to develop and he takes it to the house. These type of plays can be successful against the Chiefs, if the offensive line can move their men up front.

The Chiefs were better against the run last week when they played the Patriots, allowing New England only 94 rushing yards as a team – 66 of those coming from running backs. On the season, however, Kansas City’s rush defense is fifth-worst in the league, giving up an average of 137.7 rushing yards per game. If the Chiefs don’t jump out to a big lead, the Broncos can continue to run the ball – which should mean plenty of success for Lindsay on Sunday.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

Drew Lock was outstanding against the Texans last week, but things could be much different this time around in Kansas City. The rookie quarterback still makes some shaky decisions, has to clean up his footwork and needs to use his eyes better to manipulate a defense. Let’s hope we can see improvements in those departments against the Chiefs.

Helping out Lock will be star receiver Courtland Sutton. He garnering a lot of attention as the primary weapon in the passing game, but the wideout can win against double teams and Lock has no hesitation when throwing into tight windows.

The Broncos don’t want to get into a shootout against the Chiefs, mainly because Denver lacks weapons on offense. But when they do go through the air, Sutton should be the one they attack with the most.

If they run the ball effectively, the Broncos can set up play-action passing for downfield throws. In addition to targeting Sutton, they should be attacking the Chiefs with their running backs as receivers out of the backfield. While Lindsay should get more carries, we could see Freeman get more receptions – that could turn into big plays – against the Chiefs.

This video from The QB School on YouTube is a fair and honest assessment of Lock’s second start. There are plenty of things to be excited about with Lock, but he has things to work on – and this offensive line needs to protect him better.

The Chiefs pass defense has welcomed back defensive lineman Chris Jones. His presence up front pressuring quarterbacks has allowed the secondary to look better. In four of the last five games, the Chiefs have held opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 230 passing yards. During the last three games, the Chiefs have logged a whopping seven interceptions, while allowing just three touchdown passes.

On the season, the Chiefs have given up the most receiving yards to running backs per game (61) on average. Attacking the linebacker level is something the Broncos should have in their game plan. With Sutton drawing so much attention, guys like Freeman and tight end Noah Fant could have good performances on Sunday.

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When the Chiefs Run the Ball

The Chiefs have a problem at the running back position. They do have talented players like Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy, but Williams has been banged up and McCoy isn’t the same player he used to be. Williams has not done much for the team since Week 10, as he battles a painful rib injury.

While Williams has not played since Week 11, McCoy has not really taken over in this backfield, even though he’s a veteran player with plenty of experience. Father Time catches up with every player in the league and McCoy looks like he’s in the twilight of his career. In the last two games, McCoy has just 16 carries for 49 yards and one rushing touchdown.

In the play below, you see Williams scamper for a 91-yard touchdown against the Vikings. It was this game where Williams looked his best, but that was back in Week 9. He’s healthy enough to play again now, and the Broncos have to be careful that Williams doesn’t have this type of back-breaking play against them on Sunday.

The Chiefs won’t run the ball much against the Broncos. They rank No. 27 in the league in rushing attempts (298) so far in 2019. The Chiefs also rank No. 27 with an average of just 93 rushing yards per game.

In addition to Williams and McCoy, the Chiefs also have veteran Spencer Ware (who played most of the snaps last week) and rookie Darwin Thompson. Their rotation of running backs shouldn’t be too difficult for the Broncos defense to handle.

Denver’s defensive line is banged up, but this defense has been strong against the run for most of the season – allowing only two running backs to exceed 100 yards in 2019. This defense has also allowed just six runs of 20 or more yards (T-8th fewest). I don’t expect the Chiefs to “go off” against the Broncos rush defense.

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When the Chiefs Pass the Ball

The Broncos were hammered by the Chiefs when they played earlier this year, losing 30-6 at Empower Field at Mile High. However, most of that game was played by backup Matt Moore. Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes was knocked out with a knee injury during that game, but the Broncos did not take advantage of that opportunity.

The Chiefs passing game has been a bit off during the last few games. Mahomes did have 283 passing yards against the Patriots in Week 14, but he failed to pass for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games before that game. The win at New England was a tale of two halves, as Mahomes suffered a hand injury that certainly impacted his game negatively.

In the second half against the Patriots, Mahomes didn’t look the same with his hand injury. Watching the video below shows you a difference in his play before and after the injury, when his passes didn’t look as crisp and Mahomes just had 58 yards in the second half.

The Broncos defense is great against the pass, allowing the sixth-fewest passing yards per game (215.9) on average. They have not been abused by tight ends this season, something that is a drastic difference from years past.

The zone-heavy defense implemented by Vic Fangio has cluttered up the middle of the field for opponents. In fact, superstar tight end Travis Kelce had his lowest output of the 2019 season against the Broncos earlier this year when he caught six passes for just 44 yards. The Broncos will need to stay strong again when it comes to slowing down the Pro Bowl tight end.

The wide receivers should do the most damage against the Broncos on Sunday. Tyreek Hill is going to be covered by Chris Harris Jr., but all it takes is one play for Hill to turn in a field-flipping play. Sammy Watkins can be ice cold for the Chiefs, so the Broncos don’t want him to get hot on Sunday in a matchup against Isaac Yiadom (and others).

Rookie Mecole Hardman only had one catch against the Patriots last week, but it went for almost 50 yards and a touchdown. His speed makes him a dangerous threat the Broncos cannot forget about. It’s a good thing the safety play helps this Broncos defense and they have given up the sixth-fewest passing plays of 20 or more yards (35) in 2019.

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Summary

The Broncos have a chance against the Chiefs – and a better chance that most think. It all starts with Lindsay running the ball. If Denver can run the ball effectively, they are essentially playing defense against the Chiefs offense by keeping Mahomes and company cold on the sidelines.

Lock needs to keep his composure against the Chiefs. Win or lose, I want to see how the rookie quarterback handles himself if (when) the Broncos fall behind. He needs to stay true to the play design and if things break down then he should stay aggressive on the second play.

The hand injury for Mahomes means the Chiefs offense may not be as dangerous as we normally expect them to be. They do not have a commitment to running the ball and the Broncos aren’t the team to start running against anyway.

This game comes down to Mahomes and the discipline of the Broncos pass defense. Mahomes should use short passes to dink-and-dunk his way down the field. If the Broncos lack discipline, then that’s when big plays in the passing game will come.

The Chiefs will take some deep shots with speedy receivers like Hill, Watkins and Hardman, so the Broncos have to be ready for that. Arrowhead Stadium is a tough place to play and the Broncos don’t have a great record there in the month of December. It’s been two wins in a row for the Broncos, but I believe they’ll fall on Sunday to their division rival.

I’ve got the Chiefs by a score of 27-17 on Sunday.

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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.