John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Broncos faced a tough division foe on a short week as they traveled to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in Week 2. In one of the most exciting finishes of the 2015 season, the Broncos were able to beat the Chiefs by a score of 31-24.
With the game tied and less than a minute to go, the Broncos defense came through with another game-winning play. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall forced Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles to fumble as Kansas City was trying to run out the clock. Cornerback Bradley Roby scooped up the rock and scampered into the end zone for a 21-yard score.
The Broncos only led for 27 seconds in this game, but it was the final seconds in the fourth quarter. Everything wasn’t perfect for the team, and they had to overcome quite a few mistakes on both sides of the ball.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak complimented the team’s resilience.
“We just kept playing hard, we just kept battling and we made some plays. Eighteen [Peyton Manning] takes us down and makes some great plays in that drive then obviously the big play that flipped the game at the end.” Kubiak concluded, “I’m just proud of how hard we played.”
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Broncos’ Week 2 win against the Chiefs.
The Offensive Line Needs Work
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was under duress early and often Thursday night. Manning was sacked three times by the Chiefs, and they had a total of seven quarterback hits in the game. The Broncos fell behind early, and they had to play catch-up football for most of the night.
In addition to struggling with pass protection, the offensive line failed to blast open many holes for the running backs.
Starter C.J. Anderson only gained 27 yards on 12 carries (2.2 yards per carry). He’s still coming back from the toe injury he suffered in Week 1 against the Batlimmore Ravens, but he flashed some of the same ability he showed last year. Anderson just needed more room to run, and so did Ronnie Hillman. The Broncos were able to spring Hillman on a toss play, but he still only had 34 yards on nine carries (3.8 yards per carry).
Kubiak was quite honest when talking about the offensive line after the game.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more mad in all my life. We had 2nd-and-1, we’ve got three downs and we can’t make one yard. I said a lot of things I wouldn’t want people to hear.” Kubiak continued, “I was disappointed because of the moment where we’re at…I just didn’t like what was going on.”
The Broncos offense started clicking after they had to come from behind and use the more traditional “Manning” offense. The offensive line is certainly a work in progress, and they’re a unit that should improve as the season goes on.
The Running Backs Are Splitting Time
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The Broncos started C.J. Anderson against the Chiefs, but he didn’t carry the whole workload on the ground for the team. Wearing a metal brace in his shoe to help protect the toe injury he suffered in Week 1, Anderson didn’t find much room to work with as the offensive line struggled to blast open holes for him.
Anderson started the game with a big 14-yard run, but he finished the game with only 13 more yards on 11 more carries. Early in the game, the Broncos went to Anderson in a critical 4th-and-1 situation. Anderson picked up the first down and gashed the Chiefs defense for about 10 yards on that lone carry. However, the play was negated as Peyton Manning had called timeout with a quick gesture before receiving the snap from Matt Paradis.
That carry would have obviously added to the total for Anderson, and the Broncos could have perhaps scored on that drive, as it ended at the Chiefs 22-yard line.
Anderson was staying positive after the game.
“It [the win] feels good,” Anderson said. “Of course we have a lot of work to do, but it feels good to come out with a W. We’re 2-0, and we’re happy about that.”
With Anderson still banged up, the team turned to Ronnie Hillman.
The explosive change-of-pace back is not one to push through the pile or drive through contact. Like Anderson, Hillman didn’t have much running room against the Chiefs.
As Anderson continues to mend, the team should continue using Hillman in a near 50-50 split. Once Anderson is closer to full strength, then perhaps they’ll go primarily with one back as Gary Kubiak prefers.
The Tight Ends Were Used More
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In the opening game against the Ravens, the Broncos didn’t use their tight ends much. Owen Daniels had two targets and two receptions for five yards in Week 1. Virgil Green only had one target, but he failed to haul that in. The Kubiak system usually emphasizes the tight end position quite a bit, so it was odd to see Denver stay away from the group in the season opener.
That changed on Thursday night.
Both Daniels and Green were used much more than they were against Baltimore, and their play helped the Broncos move the ball and win the game. Daniels was targeted five times, hauling in three catches for 19 yards against the Chiefs. Green was targeted three times, and he caught two of those passes for 12 yards and one touchdown.
After the game, Daniels talked about the improvements made by the offense.
“We’re going to get better with this offense. You’d like to be clicking on all cylinders in Week 1 right away, but it’s something if we can win games like we have during the first two weeks and continue to build on that.” Daniels emphasized, “Our offense will get better as the season rolls along.”
The Broncos are trying to find balance offensively. Kubiak likes a traditional, somewhat run-heavy system that relies on the running backs and the tight ends—and plenty of play-action passing. Manning likes the hurry-up offense and working out of the shotgun formation in a pass-happy system.
As we’ve seen through two games this year, the Broncos can do both—but finding the right rhythm for the offense has been a challenge.
No matter how the Broncos craft their offense in 2015, they need to be sure to use the tight ends in a similar way to how Daniels and Green were used on Thursday night.
The Pass Rush Is Still Intense
Ed Zurga/Associated Press
The Broncos defense is one of the most ferocious units in the NFL. The pressure put on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith helped win the game Thursday night.
Linebacker Von Miller was able to snare the first sack of the season against the Chiefs. It was the 50th quarterback takedown of his career, and that play made him the third-fastest player in NFL history to accumulate 50 career sacks.
After the game, Miller was elated with the defensive performance.
“I am just proud of these guys. We are getting some rest, we’ve got guys like Shaq [Barrett] and Shane [Ray]…we’re going to be all right.” Miller concluded, “I’m good. I’m happy with where we’re at.”
As is the case this season, Miller wasn’t the only Broncos defender to bring the heat.
With his first-quarter sack, linebacker DeMarcus Ware recorded his 129th career quarterback takedown to pass Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson for the 13th-most in NFL history. The combination of Miller and Ware continues to be one of the most dangerous in the league.
In addition to Miller and Ware, defensive ends Malik Jackson and Antonio Smith also had one sack each. On the night, the Broncos had a total of seven quarterback hits on Alex Smith.
That pressure forced Smith into bad throws, and the Broncos secondary took advantage of a passer under duress. The identity of this team is defense, and once again it was that side of the ball that sealed the victory for the Broncos.
Ed Zurga/Associated Press
With the pass-rushers putting so much pressure on Alex Smith, the secondary was able to take advantage most of the night. All of the top three corners for the Broncos got their hands on the ball Thursday night.
Aqib Talib had a pick-six in Week 1 against the Ravens, and he almost did the same thing against the Chiefs. He was able to pick off Smith, but Talib stumbled as he gathered the ball and fell to the turf. Had he kept his feet, there’s a good chance that would have been another scoring play.
Chris Harris Jr. got his hands on an interception too. He weaved through traffic and was able to pick up 20 yards on the interception return. Harris also had a pass defensed earlier in the game.
Bradley Roby made the play of the night to seal the victory with less than 30 seconds to go.
The score was tied, and it seemed likely this game was going to overtime. Instead of kneeling on the ball and heading to the extra period, the Chiefs decided to run the ball with superstar back Jamaal Charles. As he was being tackled for a minimal gain, linebacker Brandon Marshall was able to punch the ball out. Roby scooped the ball into his clutches and scampered to the end zone for the game-winning score.
After the game, Roby described the play.
“I was just running to the ball, then Marshall knocked it out. I see it on the ground, ran and grabbed it and ran to the end zone. I knew there were only a few seconds left,” Roby said. “We made it happen.”
As anticipated, this group of talented corners is able to take advantage of quarterbacks under duress because of the pass-rushers up front. It’s a brilliant combination for the Broncos, and this defense should give opponents nightmares in the weeks to come.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information was provided via the Broncos’ media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats were via ESPN’s employees-only database.