ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas took a short flip from quarterback Peyton Manning 74 yards up the right sideline for Denver’s first touchdown last Sunday in San Diego, it showcased virtually every angle of the dilemma facing opposing defensive coordinators these days when they look at Thomas.
The Chargers lost Thomas in the pass route when rookie linebacker Manti Te'o bit too hard on the play-action just before Manning tossed the ball. And once Thomas had the ball he ran past defenders who initially had the angle on him and overpowered Chargers cornerback Derek Cox on the way to the end zone.
So while the Broncos’ top three wide receivers -- Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker -- figure to get plenty of attention, the Chiefs have already shown when it comes to a tight end they believe has an impact in the passing game, they’re going to ask safety Eric Berry to defend him. For the season, opposing tight ends have just 26 receptions in nine games. Just one, Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, has accumulated more than 43 yards receiving. Cameron finished with 81 yards on four catches in the Chiefs’ Oct. 27 win over the Browns.
And no tight end has scored a touchdown against the Chiefs this season.
In September the Chiefs held the Cowboys’ Jason Witten to 12 yards on three catches, the same Witten who had 121 yards on seven catches against the Broncos this season.
And for the most part the Chiefs have used Berry to handle the matchup. When the Chiefs go to a dime (six defensive backs) look they do what plenty of other defenses do and use a safety as a weakside linebacker. Berry is that guy for them and as such has often lined up directly across from opposing tight ends in the those longer down-and-distance situations.
Against Witten, the video shows the Chiefs funneling help in coverage to him and letting their cornerbacks fend for themselves in single coverage on the outside receivers. It’s at least part of the reason they held Witten to such low output, but Dez Bryant finished with 141 yards and a touchdown. And when the Chiefs kept Jordan out of the end zone in the win over the Browns, Josh Gordon finished with 132 yards receiving and a touchdown.
It is always a difficult choice for defenses against Manning because he is so quick to find the spot where his receiver is winning the one-on-one. He is also patient and won’t force the ball to any particular receiver, he simply plays what he sees in front of him. The numbers fluctuate at times; Decker had two catches in the season opener and nine the following week.
But the Broncos like to look to Julius Thomas in the scoring zone and his battles with Berry will be well-worth a look.