ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As training camp approaches, there are expectations of a winning season upon the Denver Broncos.
Recent history be darned.
Hope comes from renewed faith in the sound offseason work of new general manager George Paton, the return to health of key players like Von Miller and Courtland Sutton, and the possible next-step development of young players like Jerry Jeudy, Dre’Mont Jones, Noah Fant and, if he wins the quarterback job, Drew Lock. And if Lock doesn’t, Teddy Bridgewater as a solid backup plan. Perhaps most significantly, there is also a relatively soft schedule awaiting last year’s last-place Broncos, especially early.
>>Video above: Klis & Tell: Broncos underway with OTAs, different approach vs. Chiefs
Optimism is well and good 9 days out from the start of training camp but the reality is a winning record is a quantum leap for a team that finished 5-11, 6-10, 7-9 and 5-11 the past four years. 9NEWS today begins a series of 9 questions the Broncos must satisfactorily answer if they are to indeed finish with a winning record in 2021.
9. Are the Broncos ready to beat the Chiefs?
Issue: The five-time defending AFC West champions from Kansas City have won 11 games in a row against the Broncos. Denver’s losing streak against the Chiefs is so long, it started when Peyton Manning was the Broncos’ quarterback. After serving the obligatory five-year retirement period, Manning will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame months before the Broncos have a chance to stop the skid.
A 9-8 or 10-7 record won’t mean much if the Broncos lose both games to the Chiefs this season, which won’t be played until Dec. 5 at Arrowhead Stadium and Jan. 9 at Empower Field at Mile High.
Background: The 11-game, 5 ½-year losing streak began with the injured Manning experiencing the worst game of his 293-game career, even as he set the all-time passing yardage record, in the teams’ final meeting of 2015. Manning completed almost as many passes to the Chiefs defense (4) that November day as to his own team (5) and was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler.
Justin Simmons, for all his fine play that earned him the richest contract at the safety position, has been part of 9 consecutive losses to the Chiefs. Shelby Harris’ stellar play earned him a $9 million-a-year deal this offseason yet counting his 2015 season with the Raiders he’s 0-10 against the Chiefs.
The primary difference in this series has been at the head coach and quarterback positions. Andy Reid has been the Chiefs’ head coach throughout the run. He’s started only two quarterbacks during his streak against the Broncos -- the steady and underrated Alex Smith through the first four games, and the sensational Patrick Mahomes in the next seven. The Broncos, meanwhile, have been coached by Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio, who have started at quarterback Manning, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Drew Lock.
Then again, journeyman Matt Moore came off the bench early to replace an injured Mahomes in a 2019 game to lead the Chiefs to a lopsided victory. And Mahomes’ first win in the series was in his NFL debut in a meaningless 2017 finale at Mile High. So it hasn’t always been about the quarterback.
Resolution: Shelby Harris got an idea of how to beat the Chiefs from watching Tampa Bay destroy Mahomes and Kansas City, 31-9 back in February.
“Like you saw in the Super Bowl, the No. 1 way you get to a great QB is by pass rush,’’ Harris told 9News in late-March. “Pressure. I feel like we just fortified that so I think every QB out there should be worried.’’
Paton also set out to slow down the Chiefs’ top two receiving threats in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce by adding three elite cornerbacks in Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and first-round draft pick Patrick Surtain.
Now about that Broncos’ offense that has averaged just 16.4 points during their Chiefs’ skid. The offense, and the return to form of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, are question marks for another day.
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