Week 13 Preview: Broncos @ Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s no secret the Chiefs pass defense has struggled since coming off a Week 10 bye.

Under defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, the Chiefs incorporate press coverage, an in-your-face and may-the-best-player win attitude. And the Chiefs have the physical cornerbacks to do it with Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper.

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper (31) tackles Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper (31) tackles Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

“You try to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage,” Smith described earlier in the week. “You try to take away the inside and force them to go around you.”

However, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers have used that philosophy against the Chiefs secondary, utilizing crossing patterns to exploit the natural picks.

It’s been an effective strategy and the proof is in the numbers: Kansas City’s defense entered Week 11 ranked sixth against the pass (208.3 yards allowed per game), but now enter Week 13 ranked 15th (235 yards allowed).

The drop in ranking is a direct result of surrendering 715 yards passing combined the last two games to Manning (323) and Rivers (392).

There’s a clear leak, but Sutton said Wednesday he didn’t believe the secondary is caving in to the intense barrage of passes in recent weeks because of the mentality of his players.

“Obviously when you play corner in the National Football League and you play corner on a team that has a lot of man-to-man, which obviously we do, several other teams do as well,” Sutton said. “I think you know when you go out there that one, that person usually is a highly competitive person.

“To play out there, you have to have a lot of things,” he continued. “You have to have ability, you have to have great technique and probably the most important quality you have to have out there is you have to be a tough-minded individual.”

The last label Sutton provides effectively describes his cornerbacks despite the surrendered production.

And that’s where having a short memory is critical because having the ability to move on to the next play is part of being mentally tough.

“I think you have to be willing to get down there, to challenge, compete and go like that,” Sutton said. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to win every time, it doesn’t mean they’re going to win. Even from our standpoint, unfortunately sometimes they might hit a big play on us. We’re trying to win the game, that’s the No. 1 thing we’re trying to do.”

Sutton’s philosophy is well-received by Smith, who addressed defending crossing routes during Wednesday’s locker room media session.

“Just compete and fight through it,” Smith said about facing Denver’s crossing routes. “You understand that there’s a weakness to every defense with every play call you make. We jam their receivers up a little bit, it stalls that out.”

Still, how the Chiefs defend Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, along with tight end Julius Thomas in Sunday’s rematch will go a long way in determining the outcome.

The first time around, a Denver 27-17 win, the quartet combined for 21 catches for 307 yards and a touchdown, which Julius Thomas scored.

Meanwhile, the other equation of pass coverage is the ability to get to the opposing quarterback, where the Chiefs have also experienced a drop in production in the past four games.

After a record-setting pace in the first half of the season, the Chiefs have two sacks in that span.

But barring a setback, the team should have outside linebacker Tamba Hali (ankle) for Sunday. Despite the two-time Pro Bowler’s official questionable designation on Friday’s NFL Injury Report, he put in a limited practice Thursday and Friday and looked fine.

Even with outside linebacker Justin Houston (elbow) ruled out, having Hali assists in applying outside pressure on Manning. The Chiefs will also need to get inside pressure in order for the coverage scheme to work.

“That’s the whole point of playing press-man coverage – to throw off timing,” Smith said. “Just like we do, it definitely allows them to get more time to get to the quarterback.”

Another area to assist the cornerbacks could come from the inside linebackers when the receivers are still within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, a point linebacker Akeem Jordan made Friday.

“It depends on the coverage, but we can help by slowing them down, hitting them, banging them when they come across,” Jordan said. “Everything depends on the coverage.”

Press coverage and getting pressure on the quarterback go hand-in-hand.

The strategy worked during the Chiefs’ 9-0 start to the season and it will need to re-emerge Sunday for the Chiefs to have a chance of winning.

Tale of the tape

Offense

• The Chiefs rank 13th in rushing (120.8 yards per game) and 26th in passing (206 yards per game).
• The Broncos rank 12th in rushing (121 yards per game) and first in passing (330.5 yards per game).

Defense

• The Chiefs rank 20th against the run (115.9 yards allowed per game) and 15th against the pass (235 yards allowed per game).
• The Broncos rank fifth against the run (94.8 yards allowed per game) and 30th against the pass (283.2 yards allowed per game).

The last time

The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17 in Denver, snapping the Chiefs’ 9-0 start to the season.

The Chiefs hold a 24-16 edge in the all-time series for games played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Unwavering

It’s been rough statistically the past two games on rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, as the Broncos and Chargers appeared to go after him.

In last week’s game, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers went Cooper’s way eight times, connecting on six for 146 yards, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

During Week 11’s meeting against the Broncos, Cooper was burned by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 70-yard gain.

Some players could crumble given that two-game adversity, but Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Wednesday he’s not sensing that in Cooper.

“He’s a great young guy,” Sutton said. “Here’s a guy that wasn’t on a team when preseason ended, so here’s a guy I think treasures the opportunity to be out there and is willing to compete play after play after play. I don’t sense that from him.”

For his part, Cooper doesn’t appear shaken.

While he’s soft-spoken and extremely polite during open locker room media session, that doesn’t mask his poise.

When asked Wednesday how he’s holding up, Cooper’s emphatic response said it all.

“My confidence hasn’t wavered,” Cooper said. “We know what we have to do. We know we have to go out and execute certain things. We just have to go out and get it done. My confidence, the secondary’s confidence, hasn’t wavered from anything that’s happened so far.”

Sold out

The Chiefs announced Friday morning that Sunday’s game is sold out and “expected to produce one of the largest crowds of the season at Arrowhead Stadium,” according to the news release.

Fans attending the game should remember this game was previously flexed from a noon to 3:25 p.m. CT.

The Arrowhead Stadium parking lots open at 10 a.m., with gates into the stadium opening at 1:30 p.m.

Through the news release, the Chiefs are encouraging fans to arrive early to avoid anticipated traffic delays.

Quotable

Chiefs running back Cyrus Gray on the implications of Sunday’s rematch between two AFC West powers:

“We look at this as a championship game between us two,” Gray said.

Chiefs inside linebacker Akeem Jordan on playing the Broncos in front of a sold out Arrowhead Stadium:

“You heard that stadium, the loudest stadium in the NFL,” Jordan said. “That’s big, that’s major, especially when we’re playing against a quarterback like this.”

Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on what he’s seeing in the Chiefs secondary:

“I don’t think they’ve lost any confidence,” Thomas said during Wednesday’s media conference call. “They’re still making plays, and they’re still playing hard from what I’ve seen so far.”

Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali speaking to a group of reporters during Friday’s locker room media session:

“I’m ready to go,” Hali said.

Prediction

Conventional wisdom entering Week 11 had the Broncos winning in Denver, with the Chiefs winning in Kansas City for a series split.

But that premise was based on the Chiefs being 100 percent healthy at key positions.

Of course, the Broncos aren’t without key injuries, as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder) and tight end Julius Thomas (knee) are both questionable.

Still, the biggest question for the Chiefs surrounds the defense.

While linebacker Frank Zombo has played in a Super Bowl and a capable backup to Justin Houston, the Chiefs pass rush is downgraded without the league’s third-leading sacker (11).

It’s often said the NFL is a copycat league and the Chiefs get to face the same opponent that originally exploited a weakness in the secondary.

Was six days enough to prepare and adjust coverage for Peyton Manning and Co.?

Conversely, can the Chiefs duplicate what the New England Patriots did in the second half against the Broncos last week when the Patriots overcame a 24-0 deficit to win 34-31 in overtime?

The one dynamic potentially working in the Chiefs’ favor is home cooking.

Crowd noise, which was relatively absent in Week 12’s loss to the San Diego Chargers, needs to be a factor and the Chiefs faithful will need to earn its label as the world’s loudest outdoor venue.

Still, is a less than 100 percent healthy Chiefs defense capable of shutting down Manning for a second straight week?

The heart answers yes, but the head says no.

The Chiefs must play a perfect game on offense, defense and special teams to secure a victory Sunday, otherwise…

Outcome: Broncos 30, Chiefs 24

——-

Friday’s official NFL Injury Report, as released by the league:

Denver Broncos

Questionable: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder), TE Julius Thomas (knee)
Probable: CB Champ Bailey (foot), S Omar Bolden (concussion), T Chris Clark (thumb, thigh), TE Joel Dreessen (knee), T Orlando Franklin (ankle), T Winston Justice (finger), G Chris Kuper (ankle), QB Peyton Manning (ankle), RB Knowshon Moreno (ankle), C J.D. Walton (ankle), CB Kayvon Webster (ankle), WR Wes Welker (ankle)

Practice Report

Did not practice

Wednesday:: S Omar Bolden (concussion), TE Joel Dreessen (knee), QB Peyton Manning (ankle), RB Knowshon Moreno (ankle), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder)

Limited participation

Wednesday: CB Champ Bailey (foot), T Chris Clark (thumb, thigh), TE Julius Thomas (knee), CB Kayvon Webster (ankle)
Thursday: CB Champ Bailey (foot), S Omar Bolden (concussion), RB Knowshon Moreno (ankle), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder), TE Julius Thomas (knee)
Friday: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (shoulder), TE Julius Thomas (knee)

Full participation

Wednesday: T Orlando Franklin (ankle), T Winston Justice (finger), G Chris Kuper (ankle), C J.D. Walton (ankle), WR Wes Welker (ankle)
Thursday: T Chris Clark (thumb, thigh), TE Joel Dreessen (knee), T Orlando Franklin (ankle), T Winston Justice (finger), G Chris Kuper (ankle), QB Peyton Manning (ankle), C J.D. Walton (ankle), CB Kayvon Webster (ankle), WR Wes Welker (ankle)
Friday: CB Champ Bailey (foot), S Omar Bolden (concussion), T Chris Clark (thumb, thigh), TE Joel Dreessen (knee), T Orlando Franklin (ankle), T Winston Justice (finger), G Chris Kuper (ankle), QB Peyton Manning (ankle), RB Knowshon Moreno (ankle), C J.D. Walton (ankle), CB Kayvon Webster (ankle), WR Wes Welker (ankle)

Kansas City Chiefs

Out: DB Sanders Commings (shoulder), LB Justin Houston (elbow)
Questionable: G Jon Asamoah (shoulder), DE Mike Devito (knee), T Eric Fisher (shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (ankle)
Probable: G Jeff Allen (groin), DE Mike Catapano (ankle), DE Tyson Jackson (abdomen), RB Anthony Sherman (knee)

Practice Report

Did not practice

Wednesday: DB Sanders Commings (shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (ankle), LB Justin Houston (elbow)
Thursday: DB Sanders Commings (shoulder), LB Justin Houston (elbow)
Friday: DB Sanders Commings (shoulder), DE Mike Devito (not injury related), LB Justin Houston (elbow)

Limited participation

Wednesday: G Jon Asamoah (shoulder), DL Mike DeVito (knee), RT Eric Fisher (shoulder)
Thursday: G Jon Asamoah (shoulder), DE Mike Devito (knee), T Eric Fisher (shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (ankle)
Friday: G Jon Asamoah (shoulder), T Eric Fisher (shoulder), LB Tamba Hali (ankle)

Full participation

Wednesday: G Jeff Allen (groin), DL Mike Catapano (ankle), DE Tyson Jackson (abdomen), FB Anthony Sherman (knee)
Thursday: G Jeff Allen (groin), DE Mike Catapano (ankle), DE Tyson Jackson (abdomen), FB Anthony Sherman (knee)
Friday: G Jeff Allen (groin), DE Mike Catapano (ankle), DE Tyson Jackson (abdomen), FB Anthony Sherman (knee)

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