Quarterback Drew Lock and running back Phillip Lindsay both returned to the Denver (2-3) lineup last Sunday, after both missed several weeks with injuries, to help upset the Patriots, 18-16. It wasn't pretty, as all 18 points came from the foot of kicker Brandon McManus, but in the NFL, a win is a win is a win, especially for a team that hadn't played a game since Oct. 1. This week, the Broncos' offense gets a little more juice back with the return of running back Melvin Gordon III and tight end Noah Fant. Denver is going to need all hands on deck to keep up with Kansas City.
The Chiefs (5-1) bounced back last week, knocking off Buffalo in a downpour, 26-17, after losing in a shootout two weeks ago to the Raiders. Kansas City dominated both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Chiefs were balanced but controlled the clock with the ground game, rushing for 245 yards at 5.3 yards per clip. Defensively, they attacked Josh Allen and held the Bills' offense to just 206 total yards. The Chiefs built a two-game lead in the AFC West, and a win on Sunday in Denver would only cushion their lead nearing the halfway point of the season.
Kansas City at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 25, 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Denver's D heating up?
Before last Sunday, the Broncos' defense looked like a unit that was really missing the services of Von Miller. Entering Week 6, Denver's two turnovers forced were the least in the league. What's worse, both of those takeaways came in one game, Week 2 against Pittsburgh. But something clicked for the Denver D against the Pats. They were world-beaters, forcing four New England fumbles and stealing three turnovers.
Denver's front seven was all over Cam Newton, bringing the blitz on half of his dropbacks. Newton was pressured on nearly a third of his throws resulting in four sacks, two by linebacker Malik Reed, and eight quarterback hits. Newton's final stat line: 157 yards passing, two interceptions, and a 51.6 passer rating. Denver held the Patriots to just 288 total yards and stopped them on third down nine times in 13 attempts. It was the most complete defensive performance from Denver this season. They now rank first in red-zone scores allowed (7), third in red-zone scoring rate (46 percent), and 12th in points allowed per game (22.0).
If the Broncos have any chance on Sunday, they are going to need a repeat performance from their defense. Kansas City's offense was perfectly balanced against Buffalo last week. Of their 499 yards of total offense, 245 came on the ground, and 161 of those yards were from rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire alone. And Le'Veon Bell is expected to make his debut this week. Patrick Mahomes was stellar, as usual, going 21-of-26 for 225 yards, two touchdowns, and a 128.4 rating. Slowing down the game's best player and most dynamic offense in a generation shouldn't be that hard of an encore, right?
2. Is KC's run D its Achilles heel?
Even the greatest teams of all-time have weak spots. Kansas City is no different. For the Chiefs, their run defense is their shortcoming. Whether or not it can be their undoing — think last year's Ravens' run defense — remains to be seen. Right now, KC is 30th in rushing yards allowed per game (145.3), while sitting tied for fourth-worst in rushing first downs allowed (53).
Last week, however, the Chiefs cleaned it up. Kansas City completely shut down the Bills running game allowing only 87 yards on 23 carries, just 3.7 yards per attempt. Allen was Buffalo's leading rusher with 47 yards, and half of those came from scrambles outside the pocket.
This week, the Chiefs have a bigger task at hand than Buffalo's 27th ranked rushing attack — at least in theory. My theory, anyway. At first glance, the Denver run game isn't much to look at. The Broncos are the second-worst rushing team in the league — 25th in yards per game (101.0) and 29th in yards per carry (3.7). But numbers don't tell the whole story.
Denver has been without Phillip Lindsay for most of the season after he left Week 2's game against the Steelers with a toe injury. Lindsay returned last week ready to carry the load for Denver's offense, rushing for 101 yards on 23 carries in his first game action in a month. Sunday, Denver will also be getting Gordon back, who missed last week with an illness. In Lindsay's three-game absence, Gordon rushed for a respectable 203 yards on 50 attempts, had 107-yards against the Jets, and scored five total touchdowns, three of which were receiving.
With both Lindsay and Gordon healthy, that should take some of the pressure off Lock and force the Chiefs run defense to make a few stops — at least in theory.
3. Drew Lock
If "The Room" were a quarterback performance, then Lock's outing last week was Tommy Wiseau. Considering the litany of alleged quarterbacks the Broncos have fielded in the last decade, that's saying something. (**cough**cough** TEBOW **cough**cough)
He finished the day 10-of-24 for 189 yards and a 34.9 passer rating. It's not like the Pats were throwing the kitchen sink at Lock, either. New England pressured Lock on only 11 percent of his throws. He had, on average, 3.05 seconds to throw, the fourth-largest amount of time for any QB last week, and 29 percent of his attempts were considered "aggressive," the second-most from Week 6. And yet, 10 of Lock's 24 throws were ranked as "poor," according to Pro Football Reference.
The most worrisome numbers Lock posted are the numbers two and five — as in two interceptions thrown in the final five minutes of the game. Perhaps any other team — any NFC East team and the Jets excluded — would have made Lock pay for those fourth-quarter picks. But the Pats, coming off three weeks of coronavirus scares and schedule reshuffling, were flat, and Lock was able to skate by unscathed.
To be fair, it was Lock's first game back since injuring his throwing shoulder in Week 2, but those glaring quarterback faux pas cannot happen against KC. The Chiefs' pass defense is stout. They held Allen to only 122 passing yards on 4.5 yards per attempt with one interception. On the season, KC's D is third in passing yards allowed per game (208.0) and fourth in passer rating (81.9) allowed. Although they don't always get to opposing quarterbacks, they still bring pressure. Kansas City has only recorded 13 sacks (14th), but they are second in hurries (32) and pressure rate (30.9 percent) and fourth in knockdowns (22) and blitz rate (40 percent).
If Denver has any hope of having back-to-back upsets and getting into the AFC West hunt, Lock is going to have to clean it up.
The Broncos' two-game winning streak more than likely comes to an end this week against the Chiefs. Despite Denver's defense playing better and the return of some offensive weaponry, Kansas City simply has too many ways to beat you on offense. Don't expect a lot of field goals in this one.
Prediction: Kansas City 34, Denver 20
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.