ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Since the Denver Broncos' brass stashed quarterback Peyton Manning in the backseat of an SUV to try to go to dinner in some peace and quiet to seal the recruitment of the future Hall of Famer in March 2012, Manning has helped do a lot of things for the team.
Like playoff appearances, helping the Broncos stay on the league’s front burner and the mammoth indoor practice facility -- with television studio inside -- the Broncos just cut the ribbon on this month. But Manning also has helped put the brakes on the Broncos’ late-season struggles in Arrowhead Stadium.
Heading into Sunday night’s game between the Broncos (8-3) and Chiefs (7-4), the Broncos are 4-14 in regular-season games played in Arrowhead on Thanksgiving or later on the calendar, with two of those wins coming in Manning’s two seasons..
With that, some things to keep an eye on:
Jamaal Charles is Job 1. Charles has missed one game this season with an ankle injury -- Week 3 against the Miami. In the 10 games he has played he has accounted for 29.6 percent of the Chiefs' yards from scrimmage and touched the ball on 29.5 percent of their plays. Charles also has accounted for 42 percent of the Chiefs’ touchdowns in those games. The Dolphins had some success running the ball in the first half against the Broncos’ lighter personnel groupings last Sunday. Miami rushed for 83 of its 90 first-half rushing yards against the Broncos’ nickel and dime packages. It should be expected the Chiefs would try to do the same, especially with the injuries the Broncos are sporting on defense. Cornerback Aqib Talib and cornerback Kayvon Webster having missed practice time this week. Talib, who has never played 16 games in a season, is closer to playing than Webster is but still a question mark.
Third down a first priority: In the Week 2 meeting between these two teams, the Bronco's defense repeatedly let the Chiefs' offense wiggle out of trouble on long third-down plays. The Chiefs converted seven third-down plays of third-and-8 or longer, including a third-and-18, a third-and-11 and two third-and-13 situations. And that was a game Charles played only five snaps -- two carries for 4 yards -- due of an ankle injury. If the Broncos pin the Chiefs in those long-yardage situations they have to close the deal, especially in their nickel and dime packages. The Chiefs had all seven of their longest conversions last time on pass plays. “We found some things we can do better,’’ said linebacker Brandon Marshall. “Think we’ll be a lot better this go-around. I think they made things a little closer because of the problems we had on third down.’’
Harris Jr. needs a big day. The Chiefs have yet to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.Kelce leads them with four TD catches, and Charles and Anthony Fasano have three each. Because of Talib’s injury, it’s difficult to stay away from the idea the Broncos will want, and need, to match cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on Dwayne Bowe and disperse the help elsewhere. Bowe would have a size advantage, but Harris Jr. might be having his best season. Bowe is the Chiefs’ most targeted player in the passing game -- 67 times, including 31 in the last four games. Bowe had just come back from a suspension before the Week 2 game against the Broncos. He finished with three catches for 40 yards.
Stay committed. The Broncos showed their biggest commitment of the season to the run game in their win over the Dolphins last week. The Chiefs can create quality edge pressure on defense with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali -- Houston leads the league with 13 sacks and Hali is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles with three -- and the best way to slow them and keep Manning out of harm’s way is with the run game. The Chiefs have surrendered 111, 204 and 179 yards rushing to Buffalo, Seattle and Oakland in their last three games on 5.0, 5.5 and 6.0 yards per carry. And a look at the game video shows the Chiefs have surrendered rushing production all across the defensive front, at just over 7 yards per carry around offense’s right end, 4.77 yards per carry over the center, 5.1 yards per carry over the left guard, 5 yards a carry over left tackle and 6.39 yards per carry around left end. The Broncos, for good reason, like to press the issue with their passing game, but another nod to run game could prove fruitful.