Chiefs Must Stop Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman in Denver Run Game
The Denver Broncos rely heavily on their run game, and that's a model for success proven to work in recent weeks against the Chiefs. Strong, physical defense and complimentary big-boy football on offense with multiple tight ends and backs rushing the ball early and often is what the Broncos do best.
Breaking Down the Offense
When the Broncos get the run game flowing, they often mix in the play-action pass. Running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have a time-share in the backfield, but both can run between the tackles, speed out on the edge and get involved in the passing game.
Lindsay is the smaller, shiftier back, and he looks to hit the hole fast and explode into the secondary. Freeman is a thicker running back, more adept at beating the ball up between the tackles with his good vision and ability to set defenders up in the hole before bouncing to an open gap. The offensive line is capable of opening holes for both backs, but it's far from the dominant run-blocking Broncos' line of seasons past..
Joe Flacco is serviceable at the quarterback position. The Broncos want to lean on the running game and avoid placing the game on his shoulders. Flacco serves more as a game manager at this point in his career, but he still has weapons are receiver he use.
Outside of nine-year veteran Emmanuel Sanders, Flacco's pass catchers offer youth and speed. Second year receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton first-round rookie tight end Noah Fant round out the Broncos' passing game.
Sutton has a tendency to line up on the left serves primarily as the downfield weapon. He's capable of winning jump-ball situations and is very physical after the catch. Sanders handles most of the crossing and out-breaking routes and is explosive after the catch as well.
Hamilton hasn’t found many targets this season, but he can create separation with his route running. Fant is still adjusting to the NFL game and might a season or two away from living up to his potential as a first-round selection. He's a very good athlete in a tight end’s body, however, which makes him a good mismatch weapon regardless of who is covering him.
Stopping The Offense
Getting stops agains the Broncos starts at the snap. Center Conner McGover occasionally delivers a high snap with a defensive tackled lined up directly over him.
Once the ball is snapped, however, defeating the run game must rank as the No. 1 priority. The personnel groupings for the Broncos will require the Chiefs to stay in more of a base 4-3 look in order to quickly matchup with the tight ends and multiple running back sets.
Good linebacker play is crucial to stopping this running game. The linebackers must get fast reads and move downhill in a hurry to plug up the holes. Gap responsibility becomes critical because both backs love to bounce to a different hole if their initial opportunity gets clogged. Both backs have the speed to take it the distance, so the secondary must brace for sure-handed tackles when given the opportunity, otherwise it's off to the races.
Rookie left guard Dalton Risner struggles at times when zone blocking, particularly early in the game until he finds his rhythm. He struggled occasionally cutting off his man and showing the power to maintain blocks. The entire offensive line can be attacked with slants on defensive line at the snap, taking advantage of the offensive line’s slow feet. The Chiefs must be careful using slants, however, to avoid slanting away from the run.
In the passing game, the Chiefs can get pressure attacking the right side of the offensive line, especially with starting right tackle Ju’Wuan James questionable with a knee injury. Both James and left tackle Garett Bolles give up quick edge pressure, but they will work to push the rusher deeper than Flacco's drop. The offensive line does handle twists pretty well, so those should be mixed in sparingly.
Like many teams this season, the emphasis on holding penalties have hit the Broncos hard. Right guard Ronald Leary has nine penalties on the season, including seven holding calls. Bolles has six holding penalties in six weeks. Those penalties have stalled out six drives on the season, and serve as a killer for an offense that wants to stay in short-yardage situations.
Flacco also shows a tendency to drop the ball down low when looking to take a deep shot, opening himself up to having the ball stripped by pass rushers with active hands. The tackles can also be walked back into the quarterback with a good powerful bull rush.
Sutton, Sanders and the running backs are the main targets in the passing game, so they should command the most attention from the defense. Sutton primarily runs all his routes from the left side of the offense, which makes it easy to set matchups his way. With his physical play style, the Chiefs will need to maintain tight coverage and contest the catch to deny him the ball.
With Sanders running a lot of crossing routes, it might be helpful to have a hole defender to his side looking for the break to the inside to help the corners. The running backs are primarily targeted in the flats and in the screen game.