Notes, quotes Â· Strategy and personnel Â· Inside slant
It figures to be a chess match between coach Josh McDaniels and two of his former mentors during his New England days, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Having studied tape of the Chiefs, McDaniels is well aware of what the two Kansas City coordinators are trying to accomplish, and given that familiarity, knows that there will be some Chiefs tweaks on both sides to make sure the Chiefs’ approach isn’t too predictable.
There isn’t much that’s secret about what Kansas City should try to do against Denver’s 31st-ranked run defense — pound the ball with the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack. That will allow Matt Cassel to take chances judiciously and cut down the chances of mistakes.
But with Denver’s offense, it’s evident both by the changes along the offensive line and the talk this week, that the Broncos are hell bent on getting some balance back to their offense. Denver’s 61.7 yards per game rushing is restricting the offense and exposing QB Kyle Orton to too many hits in obvious passing situations.
A solid start would help — Denver has scored just seven points in the first quarter and falling behind is an enemy to offensive balance.
The Broncos must also be more disciplined since penalties have too often created long-yardage situations. Denver has drawn 28 flags for 299 yards during the team’s current four-game losing streak.
–RB Knowshon Moreno can expect a larger workload Sunday, barring unforeseen circumstances. Coach Josh McDaniels wants to get the running game untracked behind yet another offensive line configuration. And as for Moreno, the coach added, “We’d like to get him going. That’s an important part for us.”
–S Darcel McBath (ankle) remains limited in practice but is expected to play Sunday. McBath could play in three safety defensive packages and on special teams.
–DE Kevin Vickerson (groin) once again was a limited practice participant but pronounced himself ready to play Sunday. Vickerson’s availability will help determine how much 3-4 Denver runs, since he’s the best option at end.
–LB Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) was limited both Wednesday and Thursday but is expected to return to his key special-teams role. Woodyard also could play in sub packages, potentially covering Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki.
–LB Joe Mays should continue to draw the starting assignment at inside linebacker next to D.J. Williams in the absence of Robert Ayers (foot). Mario Haggan would move back to his middle linebacker position from the outside once Ayers returns.
The Broncos’ 363 yards per game is eighth in the NFL but the team is just 24th in points per game. That points to Denver’s red-zone failures, which includes just a 41.4 percent TD conversion rate. Denver has both examined its play-calling and scheme inside the 20 on its bye and is expected to unveil some changes in approach. Still, it comes down to playmakers in confined spaces. A shift to the long and strong Demaryius Thomas as a red-zone weapon or continuing to work RB Knowshon Moreno on swing passes and screens could be two options.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Chiefs C Casey Wiegmann vs. Broncos NT Jamal Williams. Wiegmann has found a measure of redemption with the Chiefs. Described as too old, slow and weak to play the pivot in Denver, Wiegmann was let go, where he quickly latched on to his former team in Kansas City. Wiegmann and Williams have been through the wars many times, dating back to the defender’s Chargers days and as it usually is with big-small discrepancies it will be up to Wiegmann to be technique-sound to prevent Williams to get fully locked into a power game. Kansas City is No. 1 in rush offense; Denver is 31st stopping the run. It all starts here in the trenches.
Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers vs. Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd. Flowers has developed into one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL but Lloyd has used his combination of speed and savvy to break down nearly everyone he’s faced this season. Lloyd’s ability to get downfield — already with catches covering 71,46, 44, 42, 61, 48 and 41 yards — not only adds the big-play element to Denver’s offense but the attention he merits has allowed Jabar Gaffney to work the underneath routes effectively. Gaffney had a career game the last time he faced Kansas City with 214 yards.
Denver vs. its fragile psyche. Poor starts have been a regular part of the Broncos’ pattern this season with only seven total points scored in the first quarter. Denver also is just 1-3 at home, having long ago lost what used to be a commanding edge playing in the Mile-High altitude. The Broncos need to get off to a decent start to get the fans on their side, build momentum and allow them to attain a balanced mixture on offense. One long Jamaal Charles run and the boo-birds will quickly be heard.
Two players already have been ruled out Sunday — OLB Robert Ayers (foot) and CB Andre Goodman (quadriceps). Ayers was seen working out with the team’s strength coach earlier this week and has not only shed his corrective boot but appears to be walking normally. McDaniels already has ruled out Ayers for this week, adding, “He’ll play. It’s just a matter of when the right time is.”
Goodman has missed all but one series in a five-game stretch before returning for the 49ers game before the bye. Goodman’s thigh injury has created ancillary muscle issues and the team now wants to shut the cornerback down until he’s fully healed.
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