Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Broncos Big Plays too much for Chiefs

AFC West Rivals Battle at Arrowhead: Broncos get Pivotal "W."

Peyton Manning (right) celebrates with +Wes Welker (middle), and
 Eric Decker (left). Manning/Decker connected on 4 TDs

The +Kansas City Chiefs, 9-2, tied atop with their arch rival, the +Denver Broncos, 9-2, atop the AFC West division as well as owning the best records in the entire AFC. With 4 games remaining after their clash, the winner of this game would gain a huge victory that would put them one game ahead of the other with a possible tiebreaker advantage. Both teams lost is heart-breaking fashion last week, many wondered which team needed the win more, if there were such a case, and if the one that lost was losing grip on their incredible season thus far. We were not buying that the loser was simply losing grip on their season as they would still remain right in the thick of the better records and almost assured a wild card spot if they did not find a way back to the top of the division. The other 2 wild card teams are 6-6 and several 5-7 clubs right behind. A pretty big margin and lead to seal a playoff spot if they took care of business the last 4 games and got to 10 wins, and if 11 is reached, that certainty is reached. For a wild card spot at least. Even if the other division winners have a worse record, the division winners have home field in the playoffs over a wild card qualifier. That is why becoming second in the conference's best division would sting so badly.
Courtesy of Denver Post (twitter)
The teams faced off just two weeks ago in Denver in week 11. Chiefs were 9-0 and coming off of a bye, and the Broncos were 8-1 coming off an impressive win in San Diego against the +Chargers. In many respects, that game had the same variable riding on it. Winner, is the first place team in the AFC West division. Broncos took that game in impressive fashion, 27 - 17, and sat atop the division tied at 9-1, but with the head to head advantage giving them the 'first place' label. Both teams followed up with heart wrenching losses. Chargers came into Kansas City and won on a last minute long completion to win 41-38.

The Broncos, in the midst of their toughest stretch of their schedule had to go on the road to play the host, AFC East leader, the +New England Patriots. Broncos lost after being up 24-0 at half. A lot of players were dropping and the perfect storm of officiating, momentum, the home crowd, and above all, 25 approximate mph winds. Eventually losing on a FG with about 90 seconds left in OT to the +New England Patriots 34-31. The FG was 'gifted' to them by a bounce off of a Broncos punt coverage corner carrying his block out and the call off by returner +Wes Welker, the +Texas Tech University product, was not heard and was tardy on his call anyhow. Otherwise, the Broncos probably leave that brutal conditioned game at night on Sunday Night Football on +NBC with a tie by running out the clock with the last possession or a win by driving for a last moment score. Bounce didn't go as such.

Fast forward to week 13 (game 12 for both clubs). After those losses, the Chiefs especially found themselves in a good spot because of the Broncos OT loss to the Patriots. They were at home and remained tied with the Broncos at 9-2 for the season. The one caveat that the Broncos carried into this divisional rival match was that if the Broncos were to beat the Chiefs they would carry the head to head tiebreaker by beating them both times. On top of gaining a game margin with a win, the head to head tiebreaker would go to the Broncos, forcing the Chiefs to have to have a better record to win the division, without any tiebreaker possibility. In essence they would go down 2 games knowing they can not win with a similar record the division. If the Chiefs were to win, they get the game margin and are also able to push the tiebreaker past the head to head record, to division records, and conference records after that. Other's follow if teams were still tied after that. The advantages in winning were bigger to the Broncos because of this in our opinion, and would put KC in an unlikely spot to get back on top of the AFC West. If the Chiefs won, the Broncos still had an edge if they were to make up the one game margin and pushed a tiebreaker on the two clubs.

Graphic Courtesy: Denver Broncos
The pivotal clash lived up to the billing of two of the better teams in the NFL this season so far battling for a clear advantage if they could get the win. Many who have watched teams lose or struggle in KC at Arrowhead are aware the difficulties of going into the Chiefs stadium and getting a win. It's difficult to win at any club's home field in the NFL, but Arrowhead is certainly one of toughest five places to go visit if the Chiefs are fielding an average club that season or better. More often than not, this is the case.

Fast forward to Sunday. Being pushed back to 3:25 MST p.m. to carry it nationally, the Chiefs came out in sync and a smidge more tuned in. Even though Alex Smith, the former Heisman candidate out of the +University of Utah, threw an interception to finish the first drive, that was the workings of the very solid middle backer, "Hammer" Wesley Woodyard+University of Kentucky grad. The Broncos followed up with an interception of their own, that the Chiefs turned into a TD to go up 7-0. Broncos struck right back to make it 7-7. Then the Chiefs grabbed a hold of most of the first half's momentum by intercepting Peyton Manning+Tennessee Volunteers grad, a second time and returning a franchise record for longest TD scored by the Chiefs. 108 yard kickoff return for a TD by rookie RB from +Arkansas RazorbacksKnile Davis. Suddenly the decibels were a bit heightened and intense as the Broncos fought through it to respond with a TD 21-14.

This is the point where the Broncos defense really put their foot forward and forced the Chiefs offense to punt and struggle to keep drives going. Albeit, the score was 21-14 at halftime, the Broncos deferred in the coin flip to get the ball after halftime. They used 5 plays and quick strike ability to Eric Decker, the +University of Minnesota grad, right out of the 3rd quarter gates to tie it up and make it 14 unanswered points. Broncos defense continued to be pretty stiff and forced the Chiefs to punt. This was perhaps the first big blow to the Chiefs and staggered them for a portion of the 2nd half. An apparent check/audible to Beybey Thomas+Georgia Tech grad, based on the defensive look that Peyton Manning saw and hit him right in stride inside of the 10 yard line of the Broncos for a 78 yard gain. Thomas not only toughed out a shoulder injury but was not just a decoy. Following that play, Peyton found Decker for a TD that put the Broncos up 28 - 21 with 21 unanswered points on the road when momentum was all on the side of the home team, Chiefs.

Drive Chart from Week 13 at Kansas City. Highlighted is the stretch
of five straight punts (all three and out's) by the defense supplemented
by the offense going on 4 unanswered TD's taking a lead 35 - 21
With the Chiefs 2 TD's that jumped up 21 - 7 in 2nd quarter, a TD was scored on 3rd and Goal on a great pass and even greater catch by Chiefs TE, Anthony Fasano after a Manning INT gave them a short field. The Broncos, prior to that, allowed the KO return TD also. In many respects after the hot start, the Broncos defense had played well, and were not wholly responsible for the points allowed, esp when it came to forcing the Chiefs off of the field on 3rd down. The Chiefs didn't achieve a first down after they went up 21 - 7 from 10:57 left in 2nd quarter, the entire 3rd quarter, and not until they went for it on 4th down and 1 on their own 29 yard line after getting possession with 14:16 left in 4th quarter. That is nearly a full two quarters that the Broncos forced 5 three and outs and 5 punts. The Chiefs converted two 3rd downs as well on that drive to make it 35 - 28. A drive that took 17 plays and 7:44 left (over half the 4th quarter). Despite the TD allowed instead of a FG, the defense did force KC come through with a methodical, time consuming drive and kept the players in front of them. It did become a bit interesting still with 6:32 left in the game.     
                                      Efficiency Percentages
Aside from turnover margin, this might be the most telling stat of a win or loss.
There was still time for the Chiefs to get the ball back with a couple first downs allowed even, which is exactly what happened. Broncos actually had a first down and 10 on the Chiefs 35 approximately. The Broncos were called for an unsportsmanlike penalty because RG, Louis Vasquez, came in and laid a Chiefs defender out when the Chiefs had stacked up Knowshon Moreno, and it was a standstill. No qualms with the penalty, but more so that they had not blown a whistle at all. A bit of a reach as we think it is a rule to be a penalty even if a whistle is not blown to come in a hit a player stacked up with a headstart of about a 10 yard run. Now if this is allowed to get in a pushing fest, and only 1 or 2 Chiefs are trying to hold Moreno from getting further and Vasquez springs that defender off of Moreno and he breaks it off for more, that would not be a penalty. Therefore, a whistle should be a basis of assessing that type of play. Food for thought.. Anyhow, the Broncos punted from their own 50 and Britton Colquitt, +Tennessee Volunteers product, who is not recognized nearly enough for his consistent placement inside an opponents 20 and more often than most, inside the 10. This punt, Colquitt punted the ball down on the Chiefs 7 with a bounce that was nearly straight up or slightly back a couple yards. If Prater gets an attempt and something he has proven to be 90% likely, makes a FG, the game is in many respects sealed for Denver as the Chiefs obviously would be two scores down and burned all of their timeouts with the last drive for the Broncos. Nonetheless they were down on TD, 35 - 28.

The Chiefs took the ball with 3:41 remaining and drove to the Broncos 17 yard line. Two big passes from Smith to Dwayne Bowe+LSU Football product, and to Dexter McCluster+Ole Miss grad. The Broncos forced three incompletions and the last on 4th and 8, turnover on downs, and took control of the ball with 1:46 left. Montee Ball, the +Wisconsin Badgers grad and Broncos rookie RB, had a 28 yard run on 1st down and burned the last remaining timeout by KC. Three straight kneels by Manning reached the end of regulation. Final 35 - 28

Notes: Eric Decker tied Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens to catch 4 TD's in a game and the first Broncos player to do so in franchise history. Video clips of Decker's Big Game & TD catches (Provided by NFL Network):

Eric Decker had 174 yards on 8 receptions for 4 TD's (Long of 42). Peyton Manning went 22 of 35 for 403 yards (5 TD 2 INT - long of 78). Montee Ball had 13 carries for 117 yards with a long of 45.

Especially When They Throw
400+ and Rush for 100+
Alex Smith was 26 of 42 for 293 yards and 2 TD's with 1 INT (long of 28 yards). Jamaal Charles had 19 carries for 93 yards and 1 TD as well as 2 receptions for 27 yards. Dwayne Bowe led the chiefs with 56 receiving yards on 3 receptions (long of 24).

*** Another Key Stat *** Each team had 13 plays that went over 15 yards or more. As evidenced by the Broncos defensive performance, only 3 of those plays happened for the Chiefs in the 2nd or 3rd quarters. 5 were in the first quarter. Leaving only four for the fourth. Eric Decker had 5 plays on his own for 153 yards and 3 TD's. Major difference: Broncos 32 yards per play over 15 yards or more and the Chiefs averaged 19 yards per play over plays of 15 yards or more. *** Also, this is to not disregard the KO return the Chiefs had, but that was not taken into account as an offensive play. Source:

The Denver Broncos team with their back against the wall regarding division champs and the most pivotal game visiting the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium for week 13. The most important game for both sides this year ended up with a similar outcome as the first meeting that was the most important game of the year at that time. The game gave the audience a lot of physical, intense, well-executed play, that replicated a playoff caliber competitive game. When the quality of play, intensity factored in.

Box Score Provided by +FOX Sports.
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