Kansas City’s injury-ravaged defense could be in for another tough day at the office when it faces Denver at Sports Authority Field at Mile High this afternoon on CBS. The Chiefs (0-1) not only lost their season opener at home to the Titans last week, it also lost All-Pro linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Mike DeVito to season-ending injuries. The Broncos (1-0) meanwhile jumped out to a 24-0 lead on the Colts before holding off a furious rally by Andrew Luck and company to win their opener.
Denver has won its last four meetings against its AFC West rival, all of which have featured Peyton Manning under center. The Broncos have outscored the Chiefs 117-57 during this span, 65-20 at home.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -13.5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Are the Chiefs Defense-less?
Nothing went right for Kansas City in its season-opening home loss to Tennessee. The Chiefs were outgained 450 total yards to 245, went 1 for 12 on third-down conversions and committed three turnovers. However, the biggest losses came on the defensive side when the aforementioned Johnson and DeVito each tore their Achilles. That’s two starters gone, Johnson being an All-Pro and one of the anchors, from a defense that was struggling to begin with. Also, no one is going to mistake the Titans’ offense, which is led by a third-year starting quarterback, for Denver’s, which set numerous records last season and is headed up by one of the greatest signal-callers to ever play the game. Peyton Manning is 11-1 (including playoffs) against Kansas City in his career with a 24:11 TD:INT ratio and close to 300 yards passing per game. The Chiefs’ defense had enough trouble slowing down the Broncos’ offense last season with Johnson and DeVito on the field. This task will be that much tougher without them.
2. Getting More out of the Ground Game
With Kansas City’s issues on defense, even more of the burden will fall on the offense to carry this team. The Chiefs’ offense starts and ends with running back Jamaal Charles, an All-Pro last season who tied for the NFL lead with 12 rushing touchdowns and led with 19 total scores. Last week against Tennessee, Charles finished with just 19 yards rushing on seven carries. Usually active in the passing game (7 TD catches in 2013), Charles was targeted only four times against the Titans. After the game, head coach Andy Reid said Charles’ lack of touches was “negligence” on his part, so expect that to change against Denver. A big key will be how successful Charles is running behind a revamped offensive line that saw three starters depart in free agency and is without another who is suspended. The Broncos gave up just 54 yards on the ground last week to Indianapolis, but the Colts don’t have an All-Pro talent like Charles in their backfield. Whether Denver’s Montee Ball is on the same level remains to be seen, but the Broncos are hoping for big things from their second-year back, who is taking over for the departed Knowshon Moreno. While Moreno racked up 134 yards rushing in his Miami debut, Ball was held in check by the Colts, finishing with 67 yards on 23 carries. As a team, the Broncos finished with 102 yards on the ground, but need to improve on their 3.2 yard-per-carry average. The Titans racked up 162 yards rushing last week against the Chiefs, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
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3. The Other Passing Attack
Everyone is well familiar with the efficient, productive machine that is Peyton Manning and the Denver passing attack. Even though Eric Decker is now a New York Jet and Wes Welker is currently suspended, Manning and company did their usual thing against Indianapolis – 22-of-36 passing for 269 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, Alex Smith barely completed half of his passes (19 of 35) for 202 yards, one touchdown and three picks in Kansas City’s home loss to Tennessee. To be fair, Smith was missing his best wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, who was serving a one-game suspension. That said, Bowe struggled last season and even if he rebounds to his 2010 Pro Bowl form, Smith’s group of pass-catchers simply doesn’t match up with Manning’s stable. Kansas City will have to find a way to move the ball and score some points to keep up with Denver’s high-octane offense at home, which means the passing game will need to do its part. And it will have to do so against a Broncos defense that has added a trio of Pro Bowlers in pass-rushing specialist DeMarcus Ware, lockdown cornerback Aqib Talib and hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward.
Even at full strength, Kansas City’s defense figured to have its hands full trying to slow down Peyton Manning and Denver’s offense, especially at home. The Chiefs’ pass rush could cause some issues for Manning in the pocket, but without Derrick Johnson in the middle and Mike DeVito up front, I just don’t see this defense being able to hold the Broncos down long. And regardless of what the defense is able to do, the Chiefs’ offense has its own issues and will be working to fix them against a markedly different defense than it faced last season. Denver was near unstoppable (9-1) last season at home, a trend I fully expect to continue this afternoon.