This side of the ball is all about the pass rush. There are two key matchups: outside linebacker Tamba Hali vs left tackle Chris Clark, and outside linebacker Justin Houston vs right tackle Orlando Franklin.
The issue with this matchup is that the advantage is all on the Chiefs’ side. Chris Clark has decent athleticism, but he continues to get caught leaning which leads to missed blocks. He will not be able to shut down Tamba Hali on his own all game.
The same is true on the other side of the line. Orlando Franklin is big with long arms, but he’s vulnerable to the speed rush. Like Clark, he is no match for Justin Houston’s athleticism and won’t be able to handle him on his own all game.
We know what you’re thinking. Why don’t the Broncos just give both of their tackles help with double teams? Easier said than done. Double teams would keep more players in, sending fewer receivers out into routes. As good as the Broncos’ pass catchers are, 3 receivers vs 6 or 7 defenders in coverage is not an ideal situation.
However, the Broncos will certainly have moments where they’ll attempt to double team or at least chip Hali and Houston with running backs or tight ends. But what about the other times?
So far this season, the Chiefs have been masterful at dictating one-on-one matchups between Hali and Houston and opposing offensive tackles. With the alignment of their inside three D-linemen as well as inside linebackers who show blitz pre-snap, they can force the opposing interior offensive line to take these defenders, leaving the right and/or left tackles alone on islands vs their premiere pass rushers. This will happen again on Sunday night.
So expect Peyton Manning to use absolutely everything at his disposal to temper the Kansas City pass rush. He’ll utilize the running game, play-action, hard counts and screens (the Broncos seem to score on a Demaryius Thomas quick screen in every single game).
First and foremost though, expect Manning to use his quick release as well as his unparalleled ability to read coverage, process information, and then react instantly to negate the pass rush. These have always been his most effective weapons. Let’s face it, throughout his career Manning has mostly dealt with mediocre-at-best offensive lines, made better by his ability to get rid of the ball so quickly. The pass-protection problems he’s starting to face in Denver are nothing new for him.
The one wild card is Manning’s ankle (or ankles). We do not know exactly what the extent of his injury is. Many have claimed that his ankle injuries, if significant, won’t alter his play because he’s not a mobile quarterback. This is garbage. Manning is one of the most mobile quarterbacks (inside the pocket) this league has ever seen. His ability to drop quickly, set up, move to avoid pressure and reset his feet so they’re ready to throw right away are as responsible for his success as a quarterback as any of his skills. The severity of his injury is an important (and unknown) X-factor in this game and for the rest of the season.
But aside from Manning’s injuries, if the Broncos are able to mitigate the Chiefs’ pass rush, there are matchups to exploit in the passing game. As long as they don’t turn the ball over and put their defense in bad positions, something they’ve done too often in their last 4 games, the Broncos should win this one.