KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Five things to watch when the Broncos face the 1-9 Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium here Sunday:
1. THE QUINN FACTOR:
Brady Quinn, who will start at quarterback for the Chiefs on Sunday, knows the Broncos — at least all of them who were with the team in 2011, the second of the two seasons he spent on the sideline without throwing a regular-season pass.
But they also know him, which makes up for the relative lack of film they have on Quinn as a Chief: just two starts, one of which saw him attempt to play through a concussion, against Oakland on Oct. 28.
“He hasn’t had a lot of snaps this year but enough to kind of get a feel for how they’re going to use him,” said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. “I think it’s not going to change a whole lot as far as scheme but it’s good to know what Brady’s good at and what he’s not good at.”
What they know is that Quinn struggled under a heavy pass rush. That was his undoing in the preseason finale at Arizona last year, when he squandered a chance to make an outright claim of the backup slot behind Kyle Orton by going 4-of-12 and finishing with a 7.6 rating before giving way to Tim Tebow. Thus, look for the Broncos to attack Quinn as they did Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers in recent weeks.
2. EXPLOITING THE O-LINE:
For a second consecutive game, the Broncos face an offensive line hindered by injuries, but in this case, the primary issue is a sudden one, spurred by the back injury left tackle Branden Albert suffered last Sunday against the Bengals. He didn’t practice this week and is unlikely to play, leaving third-round rookie Donald Stephenson to take his spot.
Other changes could be in the offing if center Ryan Lilja and guard Jon Asamoah sit out; they’re questionable for Sunday. If they can’t play, former Bronco utility backup Russ Hochstein would start.
No matter what, it’s bad news considering that the Chiefs’ tattered blocking unit will have to deal with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who have combined for 21 of the Broncos’ 35 sacks. Denver also has 16 sacks this month, and Quinn isn’t known as a scrambler.
3. CONTAINING CHARLES:
Most of the Chiefs’ vital organs are failing, but Jamaal Charles had provided them with a pulse, however faint, this season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. While wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has been hamstrung by his quarterbacks’ inability to get him the ball, Charles has taken enough handoffs to keep Kansas City’s offense from total collapse.
The afore-mentioned issues on the offensive line could play into the Broncos’ hands. But the biggest item in the Broncos’ favor is their strength against the run since Keith Brooking became the starting middle linebacker. If only Brooking’s MLB starts were considered, the Broncos would rank as the league’s stingiest defense — by far — in yardage per carry, rushing yardage per game and percentage of carries to gain a first down.
4. WHO’S GOING TO RUN WITH McGAHEE SIDELINED?
The easy thing to do would be to make a clear prediction — and risk being wrong. The truth is that you can expect to see Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno all get opportunities — and for the Broncos to ride the “hot hand” if one strings together some lengthy gains — unless or until one establishes himself as the best all-around option of the three.
In this case, the “starter” doesn’t matter much.
5. FIGHTING COMPLACENCY.
The games get tougher after this weekend; two of the next three are against nascent Tampa Bay and perennial thorn-in-the-side Baltimore. But this is the Broncos’ fifth consecutive game against a team that entered with a losing record. There have been hiccups — for one thing, the Broncos’ turnover pace of two per game during their five-game winning streak is the same as it was during their 2-3 start. Such issues give the Broncos something to work on, and help them maintain their focus, even as the competition remains relatively lax until next week.
PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Chiefs 13.