It’s time to stop fretting: It’s game day
The Denver Broncos and their fans have spent the week fretting.
Will Peyton Manning be able to play tonight against the Kansas City Chiefs and, if so, will he be his usual record-setting, touchdown-throwing self?
Can the Bronco offensive line slow the quarterback-wrecking machine that is the Chiefs defensive front?
And is there a way to slow one of the best tailbacks in the game, Jamaal Charles, who touches the ball on 40 percent of the Chiefs offensive plays, 217 times this season by run or reception?
Yes, there is plenty of reason to worry if you are a Bronco or Broncoholic.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Yes, the Chiefs are 9-0 and the top-rated team in most power polls. Look closer, however, and you’ll find the KC boys have not played one team with a winning record. Their past two wins have not been impressive by any stretch of the imagination.
In Week 9 against the Bills in Buffalo, the Chiefs needed two second-half defensive returns for touchdowns to rally to a 23-13 victory despite allowing 470 yards and 25 first downs to a Bills offense led by undrafted free-agent quarterback Jeff Tuel, who was getting his first start.
Week 8 at home was a 23-17 nail-biter over Cleveland in which journeyman QB Jason Campbell threw for 293 yards and two TD passes for the visiting Browns.
In those two games, field goal kicker Ryan Succop was called upon to boot six field goals. And the Chiefs, the league’s top sacking team through the first half of the season, had only one sack.
So, 9-0, while impressive, doesn’t mean the Chiefs are invincible. Far from it.
Still, you know the Chiefs, coming in off a bye, will be pumped to the max and the Broncos are going to have to work extra hard to put points on the board. It would be a shock to almost all if they come close to putting up their average of 41 points per game.
The Broncos’ scoring average per game has declined from a high of 45 to the current level of 41 in no small part because of Manning’s ankles, a leg injury that has slowed right tackle Orlando Franklin, and a few missed blocks by left tackle Chris Clark.
Last week, a relatively narrow 28-20 win over San Diego, was the first time all season that the majority of their offensive linemen received negative grades.
However, mention added blocking help in the form of an extra tight end or in keeping a running back at home, and interim head coach Jack Del Rio just scoffs. Matter of fact, he goes the other way, saying the team needs to spread formations more and get back to playing faster.
All of this would suggest this one is going to come down to mano a mano matchups: Denver’s quick offense vs. the Chiefs pressure D, and Denver’s aggressive man-to-man defensive group against a Chiefs offensive unit that seldom passes downfield and leans so heavily on the smallish Charles out of the backfield.
Although Kansas City’s defense has been playing superbly since the hiring of head coach Andy Reid, it is still close to the same personnel that played against Manning twice last season. He threw for 285 yards and two TDs in the first matchup at Kansas City and 304 yards and three TDs in the second at Denver.
If Manning is any semblance of what he has been since joining the Broncos, he should put up similar or better numbers tonight.
That being done, Denver will score 30 or more points against even this superb Chiefs defense.
And Denver’s defense is getting better with the return of linebacker Von Miller. San Diego’s high-powered offense scored only two TDs last week, one of those a gift from a Manning fumble.
The Broncos should be able to pressure Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith, rated only 29th in the league, because three of the five Chiefs’ offensive linemen are ranked in the bottom half of the league’s linemen.
You can also make book that Denver’s defense will focus on slowing Charles and try to force Smith to the air more often than he would like.
Champ Bailey’s likely return to the secondary, even on a limited basis, certainly won’t hurt Denver’s chances, either. Two years ago, he held Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs top receiving threat, without a catch in one game.
I’ll take my 8-1 record picking with or against Denver and say the Broncos grab control of the AFC West, 32-21.