Senior NFL Columnist

After Further Review: Flashback, preview of Broncos-Chiefs Round 2

Alex Smith and the Chiefs didn't handle Denver's blitzes well in Week 11. (USATSI)
Alex Smith and the Chiefs didn't handle Denver's blitzes well in Week 11. (USATSI)

When the Denver Broncos played the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago it was billed as the game of the year, one undefeated team against the team most considered to be the best in football.

Now as they ready to meet again, a lot has changed.

The Broncos are coming off a bad loss at New England in which they blew a 24-0 halftime lead that has many questioning whether Peyton Manning can get it done in cold weather.

The Chiefs were upset last week by the San Diego Chargers at home in a game that also saw them lose both outside linebackers, the keys to their defense, to injuries that could keep them out this week.

Oh, how quickly things can change in the NFL.

That's doesn't mean this week's game between the two isn't a big one. It is. The winner will have the inside track to being the AFC West champ and avoid going on the road in the playoffs -- and quite possibly be the top seed.

So to get an idea as to what we might expect this week, I took a hard study of their game from the first meeting to see what went right and what went wrong for each team in Denver's 27-17 victory that was the Chiefs' first loss. Here's a look back at some of the things that caught my eye from the first game with some pictures:

Kansas City offense vs. Denver defense

The Chiefs receivers didn't win enough

Although it looked as if the Chiefs did more than normal down the field in that game -- they did take more shots -- the tape shows a lot of plays where their receivers didn't get open against man coverage. At other times, when they did, Alex Smith took the safe way out and passed on the tougher throw for what could have been a big play.

Here's a look at one of those plays where the receivers didn't win. The Chiefs had a second-and-10 in the first quarter and split Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster to the left. They had two tight ends to the right in-line with Sean McGrath lined up just outside of Anthony Fasano. The Broncos countered with Chris Harris on McCluster and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Bowe. They had safety Duke Ihenacho on McGrath. The Chiefs tried to get Fasano out into the route but linebacker Wesley Woodyard held him up at the line. Danny Trevathan picked up Knile Davis out of the backfield. Smith chose to go to McGrath down the right sideline, but overshot him and the pass was incomplete. Nobody really won outside, although McGrath had a chance to make a play on the ball with a half of a step on Ihenacho. The receivers at the top didn't win a bit.

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This is a play where Kansas City got the ball on a Denver turnover and then turned it right back over. It should have been a touchdown, but Smith didn't take the shot. It was first-and-10 from the Denver 18. The Chiefs lined up Bowe wide left in man coverage with Quentin Jammer, and with Avery to the right against what looked like man coverage with Kayvon Webster. The reality is the Broncos were in a two-deep zone, although it looked like man and the Chiefs clearly thought it was man. There were open areas in the zone, and both receivers went to them. Bowe was wide open left for what should have been a touchdown and Avery got to the soft area on the right side for what could have also been a score, but at the very least a first down. Yet Smith checked it down to the left to fullback Anthony Sherman. Linebacker Danny Trevathon came over and blasted Sherman to force a fumble and a turnover. With no pressure in his face, Smith had to take the shot down the field.

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Rookie right tackle Eric Fisher has to play better

Fisher, the top pick in the draft, has not played up to expectations this season. But he had a tough go of it against the Broncos. Denver got two sacks against him and he also had trouble in the run game. Fisher is a natural left tackle who is making the transition to the right side. That can be tough.

On the first sack Fisher allowed against the Broncos, Shaun Phillips went around him because he didn't get enough depth. On the second, he got too extended and Derek Wolfe easily shed him for the sack. Fisher played the Denver game with a sore shoulder, so that could have impacted the way he played. He did miss the San Diego game, but Andy Reid said Monday he is improving. I would expect Fisher to play this week. If he can't, Donald Stephenson would start in his place. That is not an upgrade.

Smith has to be better against the blitz

When the Broncos sent at least five rushers at him, Smith really struggled. He threw for under 50 yards when blitzed and never seemed to get into a groove. Some of that was because the receivers were not winning, but he also has to be better against pressure. He is a mobile quarterback, so he has to get out on the move and make plays. He has the legs.

Von Miller has to do more

The Miller we saw against the Patriots last week was not on the field against the Chiefs. He did some good things, but he didn't do enough of them. He has to be more of a disruptive force in the second game than he was in that first one. He was neutralized at times in one-on-one situations. He's too good for that.

Denver offense vs. Kansas City defense

The Broncos attacked Marcus Cooper

The rookie corner flashed in a big way early in the season. But in recent games, he has had big problems. Against the Broncos, he was abused. He is a bigger corner, but he has problems turning and running at times. That showed up in this game. The Chiefs love to play man coverage, and they did a lot early in the first game. They used a lot of dime (six defensive backs), using safety Eric Berry inside as a dime linebacker near the line in some situations. That put a lot of pressure on the corners, especially Cooper. The Broncos hit a 70-yard pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas against him in man coverage. Here's a look at that play.

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This is a look where the Chiefs actually have seven defensive backs on the field as you can see by the red Xs. They are in press-man on the receivers on the third-and-9 play. They also have three other defensive backs lined up on the left side of the defense with a deep safety in Quentin Demps. At the snap, Manning appeared to know immediately that he had Thomas in a man situation. Cooper did a bad job of getting his hands on Thomas, and allowed for an easy release to the outside and Manning threw a perfect pass for the big gain to set up a touchdown. As you can see by the last picture above, the Chiefs had three defensive backs in no-man's land when the throw was made. They weren't blitzing. And they had nobody to cover. Weird.

No pressure on Manning

The Broncos did a heck of a job in pass protection on Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The Chiefs didn't hit Manning one time and Chris Clark really handled Hali. Houston was more active, but Manning did a great job of getting the ball out quickly. He also had a great feel in the pocket and was able to slide way from some penetration. The Chiefs used Berry as a blitzer on some plays, but he couldn't get there. That left the man coverage outside. Manning's quick release really played a major role in this one.

If both Hali and Houston are out this week, and Houston definitely is out, the Chiefs might be forced to blitz even more. But that's risky when Manning is the quarterback. Since he gets it out so fast, we might see more zone from the Chiefs, something they did more of in the second half of the first game. Frank Zombo and Dezmon Moses, the two players who would replace Houston and Hali, are not great pass rushers.

Broncos kill with the shallow crosses

When a team plays a lot of man, the offense loves to use picks and crosses to get guys open. The Broncos had success with those routes in the second half. One of those was a 33-yard pass from Manning to Eric Decker, who also had a 17-yard catch and run on another cross. The 33-yard catch was a play where he crossed from the left side of the offense to the right side. The Chiefs were playing man on the left side of their defense, but appeared to be in zone on the right side across from Decker. At the snap, Decker crossed the field. When he did, corner Sean Smith released him. Berry, playing in the middle of the field, went with Wes Welker, who was crossing from the right to the left. That enabled Decker to get wide open for a big play. Manning had little pressure and was able to throw across his body to Decker. Those are the types of plays that kill a defense

Summary

So after looking back at that first game, what can does each team have to do to win the second?

Chiefs

Get some chunk plays. That's on the receivers to win and for Smith to take the shots.

Get Jamaal Charles more than 18 carries. Get him in the passing game more too.

Don't play as much man in the secondary. Yes, that's your identity. But change it up.

Hope like heck that Hali can play. They need one of their pass rushers.

Broncos

Get more from Miller. I think they will.

If Kansas City uses more cover-2 looks, the Broncos will need to be patient. That's something Manning did last week at Denver, but it also takes away the strength of the team.

Attack Cooper again. He is struggling.

Protect Manning. They did a nice job picking up the different fronts and blitzes the Chiefs threw at them in the first game. Can they do it again?

 
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