Rick Jussel Column September 28, 2008

If defense gets on track, Broncos are for real

Surely, you remember our credo: Never, ever, look a gift Bronco in the mouth.

Yes, the Denver Broncos are living a charmed life. We all know that. And for that, we certainly should be thankful.

Yes, it’s 3-0 and at least a two-game lead over everyone else in the AFC West.

Today in Kansas City, barring a meltdown of gargantuan proportion, the Broncos will romp to a victory over the hapless and hopeless Chiefs.

Still, aren’t you a bit concerned?

Aren’t you concerned that two quarterbacks in a row have, much like they do in summer seven-on-seven drills, completed virtually every pass they have attempted without so much as a hint of a live pass rush?

Aren’t you concerned that the Broncos coaching staff is still trying to figure out what kind of defense to run, be it the standard 4-3 or a 3-4, and it’s already, as of today, a quarter of the way through the season?

Aren’t you concerned that, as these teams are marching up and down the field at will, the Broncos, at some point, will not score in the mid- to high-30s?

Aren’t you concerned that as almost happened Sunday in the 34-32 win over the Saints, that Jay Cutler, this year’s NFL Golden Boy, will have a bad day?

I am, concerned that is.

I’m not concerned about today’s game because the Chiefs are indeed that bad. Think back to Denver’s opening romp over the Raiders in Oakland, then think about the Raiders pounding the Chiefs the next week in Kansas City. The Raiders are terrible. The Chiefs are in the same category with the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions, teams that would have a hard time beating Southern Cal.

Sure, it’s Kansas City and a sea of red in the middle of the Great Plains. And, yes, the Broncos have always had a hard time playing there.

But the Broncos haven’t had to play this Chiefs team.

This is the team that has coach Herm Edwards so desperate for solutions that he played three quarterbacks in one game — by choice, not necessity.

This is the team that boasts one of the best running backs in the league in Larry Johnson, but doesn’t use him. At least they hadn’t until last week in a 38-14 loss in Atlanta when he rushed for 121 yards as the Chiefs tried to run down the clock in an effort just to get out of town sooner.

The Chiefs are the same team that in the offseason decided its starting center for the last decade was no longer worthy of playing time. Now that player, Casey Wiegmann, is anchoring Denver’s starting offensive line in replacing injured center Tom Nalen.

The Chiefs are so young the trainers should provide milk and cookies on the sideline, not Gatorade and salt pills.

There are 16 rookies on their roster, more than any other NFL team by a landslide. There are also nine second-year players, meaning virtually half of their team has been in the league less than two full years.

Denver, which had also has had a massive infusion of youth in the past two years, pales in comparison. The Broncos have 11 rookies and seven second-year placers on their roster.

There is a way the Broncos will lose this one, of course.

The Chiefs could pressure Cutler, who has been sacked only once this season despite being in a drop-back mode virtually all the time, and force him into mistake after mistake.

One problem there: The Chiefs haven’t had a sack in two weeks and have only two overall.

The Chiefs could finally kick their ground game in gear, as they started to show last week, but Denver has not given up many rushing yards and has been impressive (basically the only thing they have done right defensively) in stopping people between the tackles. Even the great LaDainian was held to only 2 yards a carry against Denver.

Or, the Chiefs could just have one of those great days passing, a day like the Broncos have faced the last two weeks, with Phillip Rivers of the Chargers throwing for 375 yards and Drew Brees of the Saints throwing for 414 last Sunday.

That, however, is highly unlikely. Damon Huard, a career understudy, has replaced Tyler Thigpen, the second-year quarterback from Coastal Carolina, as the starter.

Thigpen had completed less than 50 percent of his passes, forcing Edwards to go back to Huard. Brodie Croyle, the Chiefs’ quarterback of the present and future, injured his right shoulder in the opener and is out indefinitely.

I’ll take my 2-1 record picking with or against Denver (1-2 vs. the spread) and say the Broncos, a 9½-point pick, win it by a relatively tight 26-20 margin.


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