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In attempt to beat Mahomes and Chiefs, Elway emphasized offense in 2020, Paton went cornerback-heavy in 2021

Broncos hope marriage of those two strategies pays off starting Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Perhaps, the marriage of two contrasting strategies on how to beat the Chiefs, executed in back-to-back years, will finally provide the Broncos with the answer.

John Elway’s last year as Broncos general manager was 2020. By then the Chiefs had wrested control of the AFC West Division that used to belong to him and his team for more or less the previous 35 years. The Chiefs had just won their fourth of what is now five consecutive AFC West titles. More troubling, the Chiefs had Patrick Mahomes II at quarterback. And the Broncos didn’t.

And so Elway’s plan entering the March free agent period and April draft of 2020 was to improve the offense so it could better keep up with Mahomes and the Chiefs on the scoreboard.

>>Video above: Klis & Tell: Broncos expecting more starters back for big game vs. Chiefs

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway watches during warmups before an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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"No doubt," Elway said in his 2019 season-ending sit-down with 9NEWS. "We’ve got to score points. And for us to  be able to compete with the Chiefs, we’re going to have to outscore ‘em."

Said Vic Fangio to 9NEWS on that same Dec. 30, 2019 date after he had just finished his first year as Broncos head coach: "I believe we had nine games this year where we scored 16 or less points. Forget about Patrick Mahomes, you’re not going to beat a lot of the other teams doing that. Obviously to beat Kansas City you’re going to have to score more than that.

"That’s going to be priority No. 1 for us, figuring out a way to be more explosive, score more  points and that process is going to start rather soon."

At the time, Elway and most everyone else were sold on young Drew Lock as the Broncos’ quarterback. A second-round draft pick in 2019, Lock went 4-1 in the Broncos’ final five games of his rookie year. The loss? To Kansas City, of course, by a 23-3 score in a December game played in an Arrowhead Stadium snowstorm.

"But in order to score points we’ve got to get weapons," Elway said. "We’re going to be looking. Wide receiver is a spot we need."

And so in 2020, the Broncos most expensive free agent purchases were right guard Graham Glasgow and running back Melvin Gordon III. Their top draft picks were receivers Jerry Jeudy in the first round and KJ Hamler in the second. With one of their two selections in the third round, the Broncos took center Lloyd Cushenberry III and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, Lock’s favorite red-zone target at Missouri, was selected in the fourth.

Offense, offense, offense. What happened? The 2020 Broncos lost to the Chiefs by scores of 43-16 and 22-16. Two more games of 16 and 16. The Broncos' losing streak reached 11, extending back to the Obama Administration. 

After the Broncos’ disappointing 2020 season, Elway half-retired and moved into a football operations consulting role while he, Fangio and team president Joe Ellis picked George Paton to replace him as general manager.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway walks onto the field during warm ups before an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

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Paton set out to improve the Broncos throughout their roster but his greatest priority was fixing the cornerback position. His top two free-agent purchases were cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller and he followed that up by making cornerback Pat Surtain II his pick with the No. 9 overall selection of the draft.

"You have to know your division and what you’re up against," Paton said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS following the draft on May 1. "We didn’t do a very good job of stopping them previous years. I don’t know if we’ll be able to stop them but we’d like to contain them.

"And at the same time improve our offense. We don’t want to get in shootouts with Kansas City. Or the Chargers and Raiders. We want to play good defense. Vic is one of the best defensive minds in football. Let’s give him enough pieces to turn this into one of the top defenses in the league."

Fangio’s defense frustrated Justin Herbert and the Chargers on Sunday, holding them to 13 points. The next challenge is this Sunday night when the Broncos take on Mahomes and the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

This time, the Broncos will bring their offensive players from the offseason class of 2020 in Gordon, Jeudy, Cushenberry and Okwuegbunam (Hamler and Glasgow are hurt), along with the defensive players from the 2021 offseason class of Darby, Fuller and Surtain. Paton did switch out quarterbacks, acquiring Teddy Bridgewater who beat out Lock following a summer-long competition.

But there’s still one problem neither Elway or Paton have resolved. The Chiefs still have Mahomes. And the Broncos don’t.

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