KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cars began lining up at Arrowhead Stadium at 6 a.m. Thursday. The Chiefs’ run of seven straight division titles and two Super Bowl crowns has not diminished fans’ enthusiasm for this team.
They will take their seats prepared to see two things: A Chiefs win and Taylor Swift in a suite.
Such is life for the Broncos. They have become an afterthought. Denver has lost 15 straight games to the Chiefs, last winning in September of 2015 when Peyton Manning was the quarterback. That team was loaded with veterans and won Super Bowl 50.
The current team is looking to unload veterans, reshaping the roster with an eye towards the future. That process continued Thursday morning as Denver7 confirmed that outside linebacker Frank Clark agreed to restructure his contract, surrendering $1.686 million in guaranteed salary, leaving him near the pro-rated veteran minimum of $841,000 moving forward. This signals that a trade or release is imminent, with the Broncos seeking a late-round pick for Clark like the sixth-rounder landed for disgruntled veteran Randy Gregory last week. It was another failed signing.
Clark is a microcosm of the Broncos defense. Nothing has gone as expected. The defense ranks among the historically worst – 21 touchdowns allowed, 10 punts induced – and Clark was a non-factor after barely making the team in training camp. Though Clark was a coach to young players in practice, he failed to make an impact on the field, posting two tackles in two games in 36 snaps after injuring his groin/abductor muscle in practice leading into Week 2.
Baron Browning (knee) could return next week, which also likely played into this decision. The Broncos are looking to go younger and add draft picks through trades with players like Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Justin Simmons, and Kareem Jackson among those who could be dealt before the Oct. 31 deadline.
With that as the backdrop, the Broncos wander into the spotlight on Denver7 tonight at 6:15, looking to shock the world.
My Denver7 keys to the upset:
Slow the run
The Broncos rush defense, by coordinator Vance Joseph’s omission, is “disturbing.” Denver has allowed 755 yards on the ground over its past three games, the most in franchise history. It’s part scheme, part missed assignments and lost gap integrity and part lack of talent. With the forecast calling for potential 40 mph crosswinds, both teams might run more. Isiah Pacheco can gash the Broncos. Denver would be well-served to run blitz and stack the line of scrimmage given the Chiefs’ lacking wide receiver corps.
Plan for Kelce
TMZ reported that pop star Taylor Swift will attend the game. It makes it even more likely that Travis Kelce (ankle) plays. He is 14-3 all-time vs the Broncos with six touchdowns. I would alternate cornerback Patrick Surtain II and free safety Justin Simmons on him in man coverage. If it means one of the receivers gets open, oh well. There’s no excuse for letting Kelce beat you by running wide open in blank spaces.
Run the ball more
The Broncos were built in the offseason to establish a physical identity. It’s hard to do that when the running backs have 84 carries this season, while quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 163 times. Coach Sean Payton admits he needs to be more patient with the ground game. The potential wind tonight could make that easier, but the Chiefs are stout upfront allowing 97.2 yards per game. Javonte Williams (quad) will return, but electrifying rookie Jaleel McLaughlin needs at least 10 touches.
Another weapon that has been effective? The screen game to the running backs. With the Chiefs rushers looking to tee off on the Broncos’ struggling pass protection – the Chiefs use a variety of exotic pressures -- the screens offer a chance to bust big plays. All three backs can execute this play, and McLaughlin and Samaje Perine did it well last week.
Play Proper, Clean
Any chance of an upset starts with no turnovers. Wilson has 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has taken care of the ball. The key is this: Can he take care of the ball and take chances when available? Wilson has played significantly better than last year but has not played his best when it mattered most, save for the last drive vs. the Bears.
Patrick Mahomes is 11-0 vs. the Broncos in his career. He is who they thought he was. That said, he has thrown eight interceptions in those wins. The Chiefs have toyed with the Broncos so frequently, it has led to Mahomes taking unnecessary chances. Will that allow for linebacker Josey Jewell or Simmons to get a pick?
Receiver Marvin Mims Jr. is the Broncos’ most explosive offensive player. He needs more targets, we can all agree. But on special teams, he must be at his best tonight in tough conditions. He has fumbled a kick and a punt in back-to-back weeks. There’s no room for a mistake vs. the Chiefs.
Troy’s Prediction: Chiefs 30, Broncos 17