First place is on the line in the AFC West with the Chiefs entering the weekend a half-game behind Oakland for the top spot in the division. Dating back to Week One of the 2010 season, the Chiefs have held at least a share of first place in the AFC West 18 of 26 weeks.
Denver visits Arrowhead with division aspirations of their own. Since turning the starting quarterback job over to Tim Tebow, the Broncos have won two of their last three games and can create a three-way tie for second place in the AFC West with a win over Kansas City.
It’s a logjam in the AFC West as the Broncos and Chiefs are set to meet for the first time in 2011.
Let’s Take Five…
1) Yards Per Play
Miami owned the tranches last week and the final score reflected Kansas City’s play on each side of the football.
The Chiefs lacked consistency throughout the first half of the season and have yet to hold an opponent under 5.0 yards per play during a game this year. Offensively, the Chiefs have been held under 5.0 yards per snap in five of eight contests. Those five games include all four losses.
Last week, Miami averaged 7.5 yards per snap while the Chiefs churned out just 4.4 yards per play.
One way to counteract the imbalance is better first down production. The Chiefs prefer running the football on first down (56.4%) and are averaging just 3.77 yards per carry on those snaps.
“In the last game we had five minus plays – two minus runs and obviously five sacks,” offensive coordinator Bill Muir said. “Minus runs particularly on early downs create the long yardage situation, which puts you into less play selection. I think it’s important now, when we say minimize errors, that’s one way. We’ve just got to execute a little better on first down.”
2) More Line Play…
The tale of the tape on Sunday might just come in the form of the pass rush.
Kansas City’s defense enters this game ranked 32nd in the NFL after recording just 9.0 sacks through its first eight games. Denver, meanwhile, has allowed 24.0 sacks on the season to place them in the league’s top-10 in sacks allowed.
Offensively, the Chiefs entered last Sunday’s game against Miami as one of the NFL’s least-sacked teams. Kansas City still ranks in the lower half of the league in sacks allowed, but couldn’t handle the Dolphins’ blitz packages and allowed QB
Denver certainly has pass rush power with rookie Von Miller and Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge.
Who can protect the quarterback with more efficiency?
3) The Big Lead
We took a look at the Chiefs slow starts earlier this week and saw its direct correlation with team’s four losses. Getting off to a fast start and taking an early lead will help the Chiefs cause even more so this weekend.
Currently, the Broncos aren’t constructed to play from behind. Denver’s strength is in its run game as it averages 147.4 yards on the ground per contest.
Jumping out to an early lead will eventually force Denver away from its bread and butter. The Broncos are averaging just 171.3 passing yards per game and QB Tim Tebow is completing less than half of his pass attempts while averaging only 5.53 yards per attempt.
The tighter the game, the more difficult Denver is to defend. Denver ran for nearly 300 yards last weekend in Oakland thanks to the zone-read option.
4) The Option
It’s essential that the Chiefs stay disciplined against the option.
Both Tebow and Willis McGahee are strong runners and Oakland was exploited last Sunday when Denver’s option attack caught the Raiders by surprise.
The Chiefs have had adequate time to prepare for what is sure to be a key cog in Denver’s offensive approach. When it comes to defending the option, every defensive player must be sound in his assignment.
The Chiefs haven’t given away their defensive approach this week, but successfully defending the option means disciplined play by the front seven – especially the outside linebackers and defensive ends.
Option offenses prey on out of position defenders.
Chiefs defenders must also contain Tebow within the pocket. Although he’s taken 15.0 sacks in three games as a starter, his elusiveness makes him a headache each time he drops back.
Tebow is averaging 7.3 yards per rush and leads the Broncos with 240 rushing yards in his three games as a starter.
5) Big Play Differential
Allowing big plays won’t necessarily doom an NFL team. There just needs to be an offensive answer.
New England (5-3) has allowed the most plays of 20 or more yards (45) in the NFL, but has answered back with the seventh-most offensive plays of 20+ yards (41).
Green Bay (8-0) has allowed the fourth-most plays of 20 or more yards (43) in the NFL, but has answered back with more touchdowns of 20+ yards (10) than any other team in the league.
Kansas City (4-4) has allowed the second-most plays of 20 or more yards (45) in the NFL, but has answered back with only 28 plays of 20+ yards. It’s a mark that ranks 21st in the league.
It won’t come easy, but the Chiefs will look to improve their big-play differential during the second half of the season.