The Denver Broncos are almost ready to slink back into the offseason, but first, they must play one last game against a deadly opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs.
How can the Broncos possibly hope to win this game?
How the Broncos can beat the Chiefs
Re-find the run game: It wasn’t too long ago that the Broncos were a legitimate fixture in the AFC playoff picture, and while the defense’s re-emergence was a major factor, the unearthing of an identity-forming ground attack was pivotal to the team’s success.
However, during the last two weeks, the running game was shut down almost entirely, gaining just 101 yards combined against two of the league’s lesser run defenses. Against the Raiders, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for a measly eight yards on 14 carries. The next week wasn’t much better, as they could only muster 73 yards on 24 carries.
With the run game performing like that, this offense doesn’t stand a chance, especially considering how Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has feasted on Drew Lock in the past.
Convert in critical situations: Along with the vanishing ground game, another problem that has plagued the Broncos throughout this two-game stretch has been the inability to convert on third down, fourth down, and in the redzone.
While the Broncos have had those problems all season long, it’s been greatly exacerbated in recent weeks.
From Week 1 through Week 15, the Broncos converted 39.2% of their third-down opportunities. In the last two weeks, the Broncos have converted just 19.0% of their third-down opportunities, meaning their already dismal rate, has been reduced by more than half. The worst third-down conversion rate in the league belongs to New Orleans, who is converting 34.31% of the time.
To contextualize that even further, the difference between Denver’s conversion rate over the last two weeks and that of New Orleans, is greater than the difference between New Orleans’ conversion rate and the conversion rate of the second-most efficient third-down team in the league.
On the far right of the image below, you can see how the Broncos’ recent conversion rate stacks up to the rest of the league.
To make matters even worse, they are facing shorter third downs on average (6.6 yards to the sticks) than they faced between Week 1 and Week 15 (7.3 yards to the sticks).
On fourth downs, the decline in conversion rate has also been pretty steep, dropping them from 58.3% — a conversion rate that would be good for tenth-best in the league — to 40.0% over the last two weeks — a conversion rate that would be tied with Houston for 29th-best.
In the redzone, the Broncos went from scoring a touchdown on 58.1% of attempts, to scoring a touchdown on 50.0% of attempts.
If they continue to flounder in these must-have moments, the Chiefs will embarrass them in front of the nation on Saturday.
How the Chiefs can beat the Broncos
Keep doing what they’ve been doing: The Chiefs have the Broncos number.
Maybe the offense hasn’t quite mastered how to attack Vic Fangio’s defense yet, but without Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby, they should be much easier to attack through the air.
Their special teams consistently bully the Broncos’ far inferior unit. This results in them forcing turnovers and creating game-defining plays seemingly constantly.
However, the Chiefs’ defense really has the Broncos’ number. They have consistently gifted Lock some of the worst games of his career, and when Teddy Bridgewater got a chance to face off with them earlier this year, they gave him one of his worst starts in orange and blue.
Steve Spagnuolo’s hyper-aggressive style completely blows up Pat Shurmur’s attack. We’ve seen it three times before, and it only seems wise to expect to see it again come Sunday.
Final Thoughts and Score Prediction
The Chiefs are just a much better team than the Broncos and they have so much more to play for.
There was a point in time when it felt like the Broncos might finally snap the losing streak this year, but now, that seems incredibly far-fetched. This late-season iteration of the Broncos feels like one of the least watchable and functional units in the sport.
Time for Old Yeller to go out to pasture.
Chiefs win 27-10