The Thursday night matchup between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs is mere hours away and both teams, while winning in week one, have serious questions to answer in week two. The Broncos beat a formidable Baltimore Ravens team with a herculean defensive effort and four field goals while the Chiefs lead a young Houston Texans team early but barely held onto a 27-20 victory.
With an extremely short week of preparation for the Broncos it may take the same kind of effort and possibly similar results to come out of Kansas City with a win. For the offense their night may ultimately start and finish upfront with rookie Ty Sambrailo on the left end. On defense the Chiefs truly have two proven weapons on offense and T.J. Ward, in his season opener, and Brandon Marshall at inside linebacker, will be most responsible for shutting them down.
3. Ty Sambrailo
Sambrailo played in his first regular season game last week with mixed success. He played in every offensive snap, allowed one sack while giving up multiple quarterback hurries. Peyton Manning was constantly under duress and the entire line will need to improve its blocking in order to stave off the Chiefs. It was a learning experience and one that he took mostly positives out of.
“I think we’ve been touted as a young O-line and that was our first true outing. To be able to go toe-to-toe with a physical defense like that, that kind of sees themselves as the school-yard bullies is a good confidence builder.”
He will have not time to mull his Ravens performance because like Baltimore, the Chiefs have an extremely talented defensive front. Sambrailo will be dealing with Tamba Hali, who has 79.5 career sacks and Justin Houston, coming off of a 22-sack season, and they will be moving from the left end to the right end of the offensive line all day. The combination is a tough task for any NFL tackle but especially for a rookie. The matchup last week with the Ravens edge rushers, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, was a great test but Kubiak believes this week will be tougher due to the environment.
“They have great edges. When you go there and play them, they’re even better because of the noise and how tough it is. They (Kansas City pass rushers) disrupted the game last week in Houston, caused havoc and caused turnovers. They’re very much [alike]. They play a few different fronts, but I think the challenge is probably tougher this week because of the fact that we’re on the road.”
Last week the Chiefs had five sacks and double digit quarterback hurries. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) the duo combined for one sack and nine hurries. On Houston’s sack he also forced a fumble deep in Texans’ territory. In the teams’ two meetings last season Hali and Houston combined for two sacks and six hurries. The Broncos won both games in route to their 14th AFC West title. Sambrailo was calm as he addressed the media all week and seemed to have a veteran demeanor as he prepared for another huge test. When asked about the group he will see Thursday he calmly replied, “It is an exciting challenge.”
2. T.J. Ward
Ward will return to strong safety Thursday night after missing the season opener due to a suspension related to an altercation with a bartender shortly after he signed with the team last year. He was apologetic, yet outspoken on the fairness of his suspension but one thing is clear; he is ready to play in Arrowhead Stadium and come away with the team’s 12th consecutive divisional road game.
“I’m excited especially to come back for a national game against a division opponent, a rival. That atmosphere is a great place to play,” he said Tuesday. “Myself, I like to play the villain. I like to go away and crush teams in their homes.”
Ward will obviously have to help contain the Chiefs most dynamic playmaker, Jamaal Charles but another big factor will be tight end Travis Kelce. David Bruton Jr. played well in Ward’s absence but Kelce represents the best receiving option the Chiefs have despite the addition of Jeremy Maclin. The Broncos’ quick pass rush, coupled with the high performance of their’ cornerbacks, will force Alex Smith to throw Kelce’s way early and often.
Kelce had an enormous game against the Texans last week recording his first multi-touchdown game with two and the second 100-yard performance of his three-year career. Ward is a noted physical player but possibly his biggest weakness is his pass coverage. He allowed opponents to catch 74% of passes while he was on them in 2014 via PFF. Tuesday Ward commented on Kelce’s game last week and what he needs to do to stop him from another big performance.
“You know, he was wide open a bunch of times last week. You just have to play sound defense with their play-action, make sure you don’t leave him wide open. You can limit a lot of what he does well and that is finding holes in zones and running after the catch.”
Kelce had an 81-yard receiving game in week two against the Broncos last year and only 36 yards in their rematch in week 13. He is a dynamic tight end and has yet to hit his ceiling as an offensive weapon. His total of 67 receptions, 862 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2014 will likely be surpassed in 2015. Ward and the Broncos will hope he does not come close to his total from week one while in the national spotlight.
1. Brandon Marshall
Marshall returned to the playing field last week and looked as swift and strong as ever, despite playing through a Lisfranc injury that forced him into surgery in the offseason. He was all over the field recording seven tackles (three for a loss), one pass defended and one sack. The Broncos were unsure of how he would perform after all the physical rehabilitation he went through but he was the second highest ranked Broncos defender according to PFF in a stellar team effort on Sunday. Thursday he will have the extremely tough task of trying to keep up with Charles.
Charles, a seven-year veteran running back, has five seasons of over 1,000 rushing yards and is also an extremely good pass catcher out of the backfield. Head coach Andy Reid has found ample opportunities to get Charles the ball during his three-year tenure with the Chiefs. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips enjoys watch Charles success on and off the field and certainly knows how tough an opponent he will be Sunday.
“Jamaal’s a complete player. I’m real familiar with him. He’s from my home area,” Phillips said Tuesday. “He’s a dual threat. You can stop him running with it—like last week they stopped him pretty well running with it—but he caught seven or eight passes. He can do both really well. We have to have two guys watching him all the time. You’ve got to point him out in the running game and the passing game.”
Charles ran for only 57 yards in week one but as Phillips stated, he was dynamic in the passing game, collecting five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. Marshall, who faced a Pro Bowl running back last week, had nothing but respect and admiration for Charles and knows he is in for a tough matchup.
“He is a little more dynamic than (Justin) Forsett as far as the passing game goes. He actually breaks tackles as well. I just see an outstanding player. He’s fast, he’s allusive, he’s shifty, he’s deceptive and which is why he’s always in the Pro Bowl.”
Marshall was quite electric against the Chiefs in last year’s meetings. In just two games he made 14 tackles, forced a fumble and sacked Alex Smith twice. However, Charles was knocked out of the game during the first drive of the first meeting with Denver in 2014 and in the second game and he was used sparingly, due to nagging injuries. Charles remains the Chiefs’ primary weapon and after last week it looks like Marshall is up for the task of shadowing No. 25.
Thursday night the Broncos will enter possibly the loudest stadium in the NFL just a few days after a physical battle with the Ravens. Offensively, their success will rely heavily on an improved performance by the offensive line, particularly at left tackle and Charles and Kelce will have to be accounted for at all times on defense. If Sambrailo, Ward and Marshall win their matchups the Broncos will have an excellent chance of stealing another divisional road game away from their hosts.
Prediction: DEN 16, KC 20
The Broncos hold a 53-56 (18-36 away) all-time record against the Chiefs but have won eight of their last 10 meetings. The Chiefs defense sacked the Texans’ quarterbacks five times last week while the Broncos offense allowed the Ravens to sack Manning four times. Both teams won the time of possession battle against their opponents in week one. The Broncos were highly penalized last week with eight total, while the Chiefs were called for only two.
C.J. Anderson had 185 total yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs in their last meeting on November 30, 2014. Demaryius Thomas has also played well when he has faced Kansas City. In his nine career games he has had three 100-plus receiving yard games (all in the Manning era) to go with four touchdowns. He will be facing a very inexperienced cornerback group this Thursday.
Von Miller needs just one sack to become the third fastest player in NFL history to reach50 sacks. In eight career games against the Chiefs he has totaled 6.5 sacks including two in their last meeting.