It's difficult to throw a new wrinkle at a division opponent during a season, let alone with just 14 days in between games, but the Broncos showed the Chiefs a little different look on both sides of the ball the second time around.
And after a long look at the video from Sunday night's win, here are some thoughts on the team's offense:
The Broncos certainly prefer to open up the formation on offense and spread things out, particularly in their three-wide receiver set. But with an eye always toward protecting quarterback Peyton Manning, they have been careful just how many times they empty out the backfield this season and line up the running back out wide as well. Sunday, however, they found some success in the second half when they did it. Manning had a 4-yard completion to Andre Caldwell when the Broncos emptied out the backfield for the lone snap they tried it in the first half. However, in the fourth quarter the Broncos, with a 35-28 lead following a 17-play touchdown drive by the Chiefs, did it twice on the same possession. On a second-and-15 play the formation left the Chiefs without help out wide on Demaryius Thomas, who drew a 19-yard pass interference penalty on Sean Smith for the first down. Three snaps later, on a second-and-20 play, the Broncos emptied out the backfield again, with running back Knowshon Moreno out wide left. Moreno ran an under route, leaving Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah tangled up in traffic. The catch-and-run was good for 31 yards. The Broncos were able to keep Manning clean on both plays. Overall the Broncos emptied out the backfield five times against the Chiefs, which tied their season-high. They also ran empty sets for five snaps against the Redskins, three times out of a three-wide receiver set, twice out of a four-wide receiver set.
Moreno, who had suffered a bone bruise to his right ankle a week ago in New England, had a grueling day running the ball against the Chiefs with just 18 yards to show for his 15 carries. The Chiefs kept him bottled as they repeatedly attacked the line of scrimmage with safety Eric Berry essentially lined up like a weak-side linebacker in some of the Chiefs specialty packages. Thirteen of Moreno's yards came on one second-quarter carry. He also had eight carries in the game for either no gain or negative yardage. However, his total value in a throw-first offense even on such a difficult day for him was again on display on a 20-yard completion to Wes Welker in the opening minute of the second half. The Chiefs blitzed Manning, who slid forward in the pocket as the pressure from the outside went by and Moreno picked up a blitzing Abdullah to allow Manning to get the ball away.
Moreno is also the most consistent receiver at the running back position to this point in the season. And sometimes they change things up when they have a chance because of that. Montee Ball, who was on the way to a 117-yard rushing day, was on the field when the Broncos ran a second-and-goal play from the Chiefs' 3-yard line with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first half. The play was an incomplete pass. The Broncos used the stoppage and took Ball out, put Moreno in. Moreno caught a swing pass for a touchdown on the following play.
In what has to be exponentially frustrating for defensive coordinators all over the league, the Broncos once again showed their ability to wheel and deal on offense to deal with most of what a defense shows them in pass defense. And they did it with Demaryius Thomas playing largely one-armed for most of the day after injuring his left shoulder on his first catch of the game and tight end Julius Thomas not in the lineup because of a right knee injury. With Julius Thomas out, the Chiefs doubled Welker in the middle of the field plenty and kept safety help around Demaryius Thomas plenty and Manning kept throwing touchdowns to Eric Decker. Decker beat a list of defensive backs on the day, including Brandon Flowers (twice) and rookie Marcus Cooper (plenty). One of Decker's big plays came when Manning recognized the Chiefs had inserted Abdullah in at safety in place of starter Kendrick Lewis. Decker beat Flowers off the snap and Abdullah cheated toward the sideline to help, seemingly thinking Decker would break to the outside late in the route, but Decker simply kept going toward the end zone instead. For the season Manning has targeted Demaryius Thomas 107 times, Welker 101 times and Decker 97. And each of the three has had at least three games this season where they have been targeted at least 10 times in each of those games. That's almost unheard of balance in the passing game and why defenses are left with so many difficult choices.
Until Manning took a knee on the last three snaps of the game, the Broncos had been in a three-wide receiver set exclusively in the second half. They ran five plays with two tight ends in the first half.
Manning had six completions of at least 31 yards in the game, three of those to Decker. By contrast in the frigid conditions in Foxborough, Mass., the week before against far more zone coverages from the Patriots' defense, Manning had just one completion of at least 21 yards. Manning's previous high this season for completions of at least 31 yards in a game was three, against the Ravens, Colts and Chargers.