Broncos must run the ball and play keep away to upset Chiefs
Oct 28, 2023, 11:32 PM | Updated: Oct 29, 2023, 3:37 am
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Run the ball. And keep the ball.
If you’re the Denver Broncos and you’re looking for the clearest path to a potential upset over the club that has racked up seven-consecutive AFC West titles — in other words, every division crown since Peyton Manning said, “God bless football, and walked into a lucrative and visible retirement from playing the game — it starts with those two things.
Because the formula that has proven to defuse the Chiefs during Patrick Mahomes’ 101 starts — including postseason — is to attack on the ground and play keep-away. To make Mahomes and the Kansas City attack fidgety and limit their opportunities.
How well does it work?
This is Kansas City’s record in games started by Mahomes when the opponent holds the football at least 30 minutes and runs on more than 50 percent of the snaps.
In all other games started by Mahomes, Kansas City is 79-11.
In other words … if you’re the Broncos, you attack with Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin and Samaje Perine. This is the most direct path to a result that could shock the NFL.
“We’ve got a great trio, to be honest,” right guard Quinn Meinerz said. “All three of our running backs are doing a great job. And it’s been a lot of fun blocking for everyone.”
And those runners — and blockers — learned a thing or two from the Oct. 12 game at Arrowhead Stadium.
“There was a bunch of things in the game that I missed in Kansas City,” McLaughlin said. “Even going out right after the game, I was watching and I was like, ‘Man, I think I could have been better at this, oh, why didn’t I see this,’ and now I’m able to capitalize off those things that I believe I seen a couple weeks back, because there’s actually film of me actually doing it.”
Jaleel McLaughlin learned a lot from the Oct. 12 game in Kansas City that he plans to apply in today’s rematch: “… Even going out right after the game, I was watching & I was like, ‘Man, I think I could have been better at this,’ ‘Oh, why didn’t I see this,’ & now I’m able …” pic.twitter.com/OVKTTx0gCK
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) October 29, 2023
Of course, one of the two games the Chiefs managed to win in this 30-minute, more-than-half-the-plays-as-runs scenario came against … you guessed it, the Broncos.
On Dec. 6, 2020, the Broncos executed the grind-it-out, keep-away game to near-perfection. Denver racked up 179 rushing yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry while holding on to the football for 30 minutes and 29 31 seconds.
But the Broncos frittered away a crucial early-game opportunity when Drew Lock misfired in the red zone, leading to a Kansas City interception.
The Broncos ultimately fell, 22-16. They hope that if they reach the ground and possession standards this time, that Russell Wilson can avoid the miscues and craft a different outcome.
Percentage of teams in the free-agency era — which began in 1993 — that managed to avoid a losing season after starting 2-6 — an average of one of every 10.7 teams. This is the group in which the Broncos will find themselves if they fall for a 17th-straight time to Kansas City.
And that percentage got a massive boost last year. In 2022, Detroit, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh all turned 2-6 into a 9-8 finish. Only the Jaguars managed to make the playoffs of that trio. But all three of those clubs sit in postseason position today.
That gives 2-6 clubs hope. However, history shows it’s an aberration. And prior to 2022, the previous 27 teams that started 2-6 all finished the regular season below .500.
What’s more, just 1.7 percent of teams to start 2-6 in the free-agency era recovered to make the postseason.
That is the percentage of teams in the free-agency era that avoided losing seasons after starting 3-5, which the Broncos would reach with an upset Sunday. One out of every 3.4 teams to start 3-5 since 1993 rallied to finish at least .500.
The postseason odds still aren’t great — just 9.5 percent.
But that shows what’s on the line Sunday — not to mention the organizational morale boost that a win over Kansas City would yield.