KUSA – To steal a Rod Mackey line: We move from the courtroom to the playing field.
After so much drama involving the nearby Arapahoe County Court this week – Chad Kelly’s appearance for criminal trespass, uncle Bill filing a lawsuit against his brother’s trustees, all a block away from team headquarters – the Broncos will play the Kansas City Chiefs and their mighty Patrick Mahomes-led offense Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium (kickoff at 11 a.m. MDT).
The 6-1 Chiefs are 9 ½-point home favorites against the 3-4 Broncos. The AFC West teams met four weeks earlier in Denver where the Broncos blew a 23-13, fourth quarter lead and lost 27-23. Mahomes was sensational in leading the comeback, completing 14 of 18 for 159 yards while directing two, fourth quarter touchdowns.
Here’s how the Broncos can pull off an upset and defeat the Chiefs at Arrowhead:
1. Win one for Demaryius
A loss would put the Broncos at 3-5 and would make them sellers in the 48-hour period leading up to the 2 p.m. Tuesday trade deadline.
Thomas, who joins Rod Smith and Lionel Taylor as one of the top three receivers in Broncos history, would have $4.5 million left on his salary this year and a non-guaranteed $14 million salary to finish his contract next year.
It’s unlikely the Broncos would bring him back in 2019 so they are entertaining the idea of getting a draft pick in return for him now.
A win against the Chiefs, though, would lift the Broncos to 4-4 and in position to make a second-half playoff run. This would make it considerably less likely the Broncos would trade away Thomas, who is still a productive receiver a couple months shy of his 31st birthday.
The knee injury of rookie receiver DaeSean Hamilton is also a factor. Hamilton will not play against the Chiefs as he heals from his second-degree MCL strain. If it’s determined he won’t be ready to play the following week against the Houston Texans, dealing away Thomas would leave the Broncos extremely thin at the receiver position.
2. Contain Mahomes from rolling right
I’ve seen it: His left arm is not as strong as his right. Mahomes killed the Broncos in the second half on October 1 with throws made after he broke out of sacks and scrambled to his right.
Mahomes is still effective throwing from the pocket. And this is where the Broncos need Von Miller to snap his four-game sackless skid against right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and the Chiefs.
3. Keenum and Co. score 30
In their six games against opponents other than the Broncos, the Chiefs are averaging 38.3 points.
The Broncos’ offense accounted for 31 of their team’s 45 points last week against Arizona. And the Chiefs’ defense is worse than the Cardinals, at least in surrendering yardage as it ranks dead last in the league at 435 yards per game.
The Broncos need to move the ball to keep Mahomes off the field and they need to finish red zone possessions to keep up with Mahomes on the scoreboard.
4. Top the energy of flat Chiefs
I do predict the Chiefs will come out flat even in front of their home crowd. They must adjust to a noon kickoff after playing back-to-back primetime games in which they scored 40 and 45 points.
If the Broncos can duplicate how fast they played last week in the desert, they’ll have a chance.
5. Block Dee Ford
Not only does he have 4.0 sacks in his last five games, Ford leads all NFL edge rushers with 37 quarterback hurries, according Pro Football Focus.
The Broncos are getting a break with Justin Houston not expected to play because of a strained hamstring. Houston has 11.0 sacks in his last six games against the Broncos.
6. McMahon and McManus
I loved the pop-up kickoff strategy Broncos’ special teams coordinator Tom McMahon employed and kicker Brandon McManus beautifully executed last week at Arizona.
It was used five times and the Cardinals’ starting field position was their own 17, 16, 14, 21 and 13-yard lines.
It won’t be as easy to pull it off at outdoor and typically windy Arrowhead Stadium. And the Chiefs have a terrific kickoff returner in rookie Tremon Smith, who is averaging 40.6 yards off his five returns.
7. Stop Kareem Hunt
We know the Denver defense has leaks when it comes to stopping the run. Hunt’s best game this season was against the Broncos as he rushed for 121 yards on 6.4 yards per carry and added three catches for another 54 yards.
8. Lindsay matches Tyreek
At least on offense. With Royce Freeman out, Phillip Lindsay will get his first start at running back. He is the Broncos’ answer to the Chiefs Tyreek Hill as they are both diminutive, speedy playmakers.
Lindsay is a rusher and receiver as a running back. Hill is a receiver and rusher as a receiver.
One possible difference in this game is with Isaiah McKenzie and Adam Jones dressing up, it makes sense for the Broncos to give Lindsay a blow from his kickoff return duties so he can store energy for his expanded running back role. The Broncos will need Joe Jones on his special teams game to neutralize Hill as a punt returner.