Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
The Kansas City Chiefs traveled to Denver to face their AFC West rival Broncos. The Chiefs had lost two straight after starting the season 4-0, while the Broncos came off two straight wins. It was a defensive struggle for most of the game, with the Chiefs clearly winning in all phases of the game with an easy 30-6 victory over the Broncos. The Chiefs move to 5-2 and in firm command of the AFC West while the Broncos drop to 2-5 still in search of answers (and an offense).
Patrick Mahomes Protects Ankle, Injures Knee Instead
What on earth was Chiefs coach Andy Reid thinking? The main focus coming into the game was how the Chiefs offense, ranked third in the league, would deal with the Broncos defense, ranked fourth in the league, with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes playing on an injured ankle. One would think the game plan would involve protecting Mahomes with a solid running game, using quick passes, and avoiding any unnecessary contact. Nowhere in this game plan should “quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 with our battered MVP quarterback” have appeared. Hindsight is 20-20 and it’s impossible to predict that Mahomes would dislocate his kneecap on a quarterback sneak, but surely there was somebody else who could have converted short, tough yardage situations. It’s still to be determined if Mahomes suffered any ligament damage, but what a shame it is for him to risk such an injury in a game against a last-place division rival so early in the season.
Chiefs Defense Dismantles Broncos Offensive Line
With Mahomes ruled out for the game early in the second quarter, the Chiefs defense came alive as linebacker Anthony Hutchins stripped the ball from Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, which fellow linebacker Reggie Ragland returned for a touchdown to jump ahead 20-6. The Broncos offensive line had no answers for a reinvigorated Chiefs defense that looked leaky throughout this season, giving up the third-most rushing yards in the league. Broncos running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman combined for 71 yards on 21 carries, the lowest allowed all year for the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the pass rush came alive and put Flacco on the ground early and often, giving the 12-year veteran a new career-high of eight sacks taken in a game. The offensive line for the Broncos seemed to have no answers and often found themselves in third-and-long situations, ending the night converting only one out of 13 third downs. The Chiefs gained an additional sack off of Broncos punter Colby Wadman, who was sent out to attempt an ill-fated fake punt on 4th-and-4 at the start of the second quarter. For a team to come into the game with only 11 sacks on the season and to gain another nine in a single game is unthinkable.
Broncos, Flacco Play Uninspired Offense
On average, Flacco was sacked four seconds after the snap, whether the Chiefs were blitzing or simply going after him with a base set. Either way, Flacco held the ball far too long as he surveyed the field and searched for options. When he couldn’t find any, the pocket had already collapsed into him. Even when he found a dump-off option, with 15 of his 21 completed passes being completed within 10 air yards, the Chiefs found success swatting his passes down as soon as the ball left his hand. The run game found some success early on but missing some first down conversions and the strip sack touchdown put the Broncos down early and they never recovered. It certainly didn’t help that rookie tight end Noah Fant dropped several passes that should have added at least another hundred yards of offense. The offensive line was being pushed around, Flacco couldn’t stay upright, and the Broncos were already seemingly disinterested in trying to mount a comeback by the middle of the third quarter. They need to find something to spark their offense in the coming weeks if they want to have even a chance at competing in a very competitive AFC West.