ENGLEWOOD - It seems impossible.
The Broncos just lost back-to-back games to teams who reached the quarter mark without a win. Not only did the Broncos lose to the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers, they scored ten points in the first loss and zero – zilch, nada – in the second.
How are the Broncos supposed to go into the house of horrors that will be Arrowhead Stadium on the night before Halloween and match points with the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs?
Here are 9 keys to the Broncos pulling off the upset on Monday night (6:30 kickoff, Channel 20):
1. Receivers must win 1 on 1s
The Chiefs play man-to-man in their secondary, so Demaryius Thomas, Bennie Fowler III, Cody Latimer, Jordan Taylor and A.J. Derby must beat their guy. Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t practiced in two weeks because of a severe ankle sprain, and it would be a shame if he can’t play because he's the best Broncos receiver at getting open.
Thomas, by the way, has gone 12 consecutive games without a touchdown, a skid that includes the final six of last season. That’s long enough.
2. Smother, cover Kareem Hunt
It’s no coincidence Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is having a career year while Hunt exploded onto the NFL scene. The Broncos will no doubt load up the box to stop the rookie running back, which in turn would force the quick-throwing Smith into longer distance situations.
3. Punt away from Tyreek Hill
The speedster was the difference in the Chiefs two wins against the Broncos last season, in particular the first game in Denver. The Broncos don’t have anyone who can match Hill’s speed, so punter Riley Dixon will have to either direct his punts towards the sidelines or go with the point-of-the-ball boot for the high, if relatively short, punt. The only time Hill should touch the ball on a punt is with a fair catch.
4. Run, run, play-action pass
The strength of the Broncos’ team is its defense, and the offense should play to it by using a more conservative attack. Even if the Chiefs are vulnerable in their secondary, the Broncos should stick with the run game. Pass less, but pass off the run fake for a potential big play or two. A stat to remember: Broncos are 3-0 when starting running back C.J. Anderson gets at least 20 carries; 0-3 when he gets 10 or fewer rushes.
5. Give the ball to Jamaal
About the only certainty going into this game – besides the Arrowhead Stadium crowd will be extremely hostile on Halloween Eve -- is Broncos backup running back Jamaal Charles wants to have a big game against his former team. Don’t waste that desire. Feed him early, feed him late.
6. Intercept Alex Smith
The Chiefs quarterback hasn’t thrown many picks the past seven seasons. But this year is ridiculous. Through seven games, he has 15 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He’s due. The only quarterbacks who have thrown more TDs before their first pick in a season are Peyton Manning (20 in 2013), Nick Foles (19 in 2013) and Milt Plum (16 in 1960).
And while we’re at it, the Denver defense can’t call itself great with only four takeaways in six games. Only Atlanta has fewer takeaways.
7. Try to cover Travis Kelce
The Denver D’s albatross in losses to the Giants and Chargers has been the tight end position as both Evan Engram and Hunter Henry had big receiving games. Linebackers can’t cover Kelce, who has perhaps replaced Rob Gronkowski as the best receiving tight end in the game. The Broncos can’t put a corner on Kelce because that would lighten the run box against Hunt. (Understand why the Chiefs’ offense put up 42 points against New England and Houston?) Broncos safety Justin Simmons will have a tough time but perhaps his ball instincts will be zeroed in against Kelce.
8. Hang tough, Trevor
Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is battered and he seems to be losing confidence in staying in the pocket. Don’t blame him, but bad things are starting to happen when he strays.
9. Win turnover battle, win game
The Broncos have had three turnovers each of the past two games – a combined three interceptions and three fumbles -- which were losses to the Giants and Chargers. The offense isn’t good enough to sustain such mistakes. To come away from enemy territory with a victory, the Broncos have to win the turnover battle – get at least two takeaways from the defense; one or less turnovers from the offense. The Broncos have won 31 consecutive games when they win the turnover battle, a streak that dates to 2012.
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