PFF Preview: How unexpected stars and the ground game will lead Broncos to victory over Chiefs

Alexander Johnson after his two-sack performance against Tennessee. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.
Alexander Johnson after his two-sack performance against Tennessee. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

As the Denver Broncos’ defense suffocated the Tennessee Titans’ offense, and the Kansas City Chiefs dropped their second-straight game, at home to the Houston Texans, the thought of Denver winning on Thursday night became a real possibility.

Now, after looking at the numbers, it looks like the Broncos have a high-probability of winning the game. The Chiefs are battered and will have to travel on a short week to the Mile High City.

This decade, home teams have a winning percentage of .612, a more than four percent increase from the average regular-season, home-team winning percentage of .571.

Here’s why else the Broncos will beat the Chiefs this week:

Broncos’ run game should stampede Chiefs’ defense

The Texans and Indianapolis Colts presented the NFL with the gameplan on how to beat the Chiefs. Play ball-control football and run the ball down the throat of the flimsy Kansas City defense.

Fortunately for the Broncos, their run game is one of the league’s very best according to Pro Football Focus. On a team level, the Broncos running attack ranks sixth in the league with a grade of 82.7. Individually, Phillip Lindsay has earned the second-highest run grade among running backs, while Freeman has earned the 14th-highest such grade (Min. 65 carries). Making the Broncos easily the best ground game Kansas City has seen this season.

Similarly, the Chiefs’ run defense will easily be the weakest Denver has seen this season, as they rank 30th in rushing yards and yards per rushing attempt allowed, and 27th in rushing touchdowns allowed.

To pile on, PFF graded them as the league’s worst run defense unit by a healthy margin. Their grade of 49.2 is the worst by 6.7 points (Cleveland Browns, 55.9), meaning the difference between the Chiefs and the league’s second-worst run defense is the same between the league’s second-worst run defense and its eighth-worst run defense.

Making matters worse, the Chiefs run defense is actually getting worse. Per PFF, all three of Kansas City’s worst defensive efforts against the run game came in the past four weeks. In that same span, the Chiefs have allowed an average of 190 rushing yards per game and 4.97 yards per carry.

Unexpected stars shining

Since being inserted to the starting lineup just two weeks ago, Mike Purcell and Alexander Johnson have been playing lights-out football and have revitalized the defense.

The Broncos came into their game against the Chargers with one of the league’s worst run defenses, allowing 150 rushing yards per game on average. In two games with Purcell and Johnson starting, the defense has held the opposing offense under 40 yards on the ground in each game.

Pro Football Focus backs those stats up. With the duo of unexpected stars in the lineup, Denver’s run defense has earned grades of 89.6 and 84.7 (opposed to grades of 74.0, 66.5, 68.7, 69.5 through the first four weeks), and total defense grades of 82.4 and 84.5 (opposed to grades of 64.8, 70.9, 56.7, 69.8).

Individually, Johnson and Purcell possess some of the highest grades on the team. Mike Purcell owns the team’s fourth-highest overall grade on either side of the ball (83.8) and the second-highest run defense grade (84.6).

However, Johnson has been even more impressive. His overall grade of 91.4 is the highest of anyone on the team by more than a full point (Kareem Jackson, 90.1), his run defense grade (88.0) is 3.4 points better than Mike Purcell — who happens to be the team’s second-best run defender — his tackling grade (87.2) is better than anyone by 3.6 points and his coverage grade (89.3) is better than anyone by more than four points. The one defensive grading category he doesn’t lead the team in is pass rush, where he still manages to rank seventh.