Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Receivers Facing Another Physical Secondary vs. Broncos
During past three weeks Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his receiving corps have faced defenses intent on playing an aggressive man-to-man coverage to challenge the team's speed, and the Denver Broncos should make it four in a row on Thursday night.
The Broncos run a 3-4 defense with three big bodies up front to eat up run blocks, athletic linebackers to chase things from sideline to sideline and a physical secondary that runs mostly man free, 2-Man, and cover 3 coverages.
The point of the attack starts with nose tackle Mike Purcell, a very strong defender who can clog up the middle. Defensive end Shelby Harris is deceptively quick while crafty veteran Derek Wolfe rounds out the line on the other side.
The front seven revolves around linebacker Von Miller, Denver's primary and now only edge rushing threat since a torn ACL ended the season for Bradley Chubb earlier in the season. The linebackers as a whole flow very quickly to the ball.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. headlines the secondary and will more than likely shadowing wide receiver Tyreek Hill all over the field.
Beating The Broncos Defense
The Chiefs' running backs won't find much running room against a strong defensive line and linebackers who can stretch plays to the sidelines. The best plan for attack is to hit plays off tackle, getting the big bodies on the move to wear them down while not allowing the linebackers to force plays to the sideline. This should open up some cut-back lanes in behind the fast flowing linebackers as well. If the Chiefs want to get rushing yards outside, they can use quick-hitting speed plays such as the jet sweep or tap pass.
The biggest challenge for the Chiefs in the passing game will be battling against physical man coverage, with receivers fighting through jams, chips and holds. The Broncos don't typically pass off crossing routes and pick plays, which leaves them susceptible to giving up easy completions if the defensive back can’t fight through traffic to stay with his man. Targeting the running back out of the backfield is a good way to get Mahomes in a rhythm and pick up some easy yardage. The jet sweep and tap pass can stretch the defense to the sideline, and it also opens up backside screen opportunities by getting the linebackers to flow hard towards the fake.
While the Chiefs remain reluctant to keep a tight end on the line to help block, chips are critical against Miller to slow down his pass rush and provide Mahomes time to attack downfield. Strong safety Kareem Jackson is quick to run downhill to stop the run, and could be vulnerable to the play-action pass.
With starting corner Bryce Callahan out, the should test backup Duke Dawson Jr. early. Harris is their best corner, but that shouldn’t scare the Chiefs away from attacking him. Harris gets physical when press man, so the receivers need to be ready to fight holds at the line. He takes his sweet time following his man across the formation pre-snap, so that man should be used to run the jet sweep and tap pass.
If Harris follows a receiver into the slot, that player can set up an inside breaking route with a hard outside step at the top of the route, forcing Harris to open up outside, and then speed turn back to cover the inside route. His path on the speed turn creates some separation, opening up room for a completion.
Also worth keeping an eye on the communication between the secondary players. On film, there are times when the Broncos were in man and Harris would try to pass a post route on to the safety so he could cover the curl, but the safety didn’t make the read, leaving the post wide open.