The general consensus in the wake of the Chiefs-Broncos showdown has been that KC came away from the game with a moral victory on defense because they held Denver to a season-low 27 points. It’s true that Peyton Manning and the Broncos weren’t the explosive bunch that we’ve seen all year. But believe it or not, this is exactly how they wanted to play against the Chiefs.
Coming into this game, we wrote that when the Broncos have the ball, it’s all about the Chiefs’ pass rush. If Denver could hold off Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the outside, there would be matchups to exploit in the passing game. This proved to be the case as the Chiefs didn’t sack Peyton Manning once in 40 pass attempts, and he threw for 300+ yards for the 9th time in 10 games this season.
The more important number from the night was 36. That’s how many times the Broncos ran the ball, the most they have in any game this season. They may have only rushed for 104 yards (2.9 yards per carry), but the Broncos’ goal was clearly to protect Manning. Even though they weren’t having much success on the ground (the longest run of the night was 11 yards), the threat of run kept Chiefs pass rushers honest. They couldn’t pin their ears back and rush the quarterback play after play. When the Broncos did throw the ball, Manning’s quick decision-making and ability to get the ball out of his hands did the rest.
It may have looked like an ultra-conservative approach by the Broncos, or even that the Chiefs prevented them from being quite as dangerous. But Denver didn’t need to win this game by throwing the ball all over the place, putting up 40+ points, and potentially subjecting Peyton Manning to more punishment. They were able to play it safe, emphasizing balance over explosiveness, because of Kansas City’s inability to create big plays on offense. The goal was clearly to keep Manning upright and to protect the ball, not giving the Chiefs offense any needed help with costly turnovers and short fields.
The NFL is all about matchups. Conservative and balanced may have been the formula for a Broncos win this week. Next Sunday against the Patriots, the philosophy will likely change.