The Denver Broncos moved to 9-1 on Sunday night with a 27-17 win over the previously unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City’s top-ranked defense gave it plenty of opportunities to beat the Broncos, but the offense failed to take advantage of them.
It was the Broncos defense that thwarted the Chiefs offense all night and cemented the victory. Denver’s defense is finally starting to look like the top-five unit it was expected to be coming into the season. For a while, the Broncos looked unstoppable on offense, but with a good defense they will be even harder to beat.
The Broncos can more easily overcome an off-night by the offense and other oddities that will inevitably show up in the playoffs with a good defense. The difference maker for Denver’s Super Bowl hopes therefore isn’t the quarterbacking of Peyton Manning—it’s a defense that takes the pressure off of him.
Although they struggled for most of the first half of the season, the Broncos have really turned things around since outside linebacker Von Miller returned from a six-game suspension about a month ago. Perhaps that was predictable, but it’s still quite notable, especially considering their defensive coordinator is now pulling double duty as interim head coach.
On Sunday, the Broncos allowed just 17 points—their lowest this season. Until the Chiefs scored with five minutes left in the game with the Broncos comfortably ahead, they had allowed just 10 points. No one is going to mistake the Chiefs for an offensive powerhouse, but holding any NFL team to such a low point total is still an accomplishment.
Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had just 72 total yards on 18 touches against the Broncos—both his lowest totals this season. With Charles limited to just four yards per touch, quarterback Alex Smith had to try to beat the Broncos with his arm—which is something he hasn’t proven he can do in Kansas City.
|Defensive Stats||Season||Sunday||First 7||Last 3|
|Point Per Game Allowed||25.5||17||28.3||19.3|
|Jamaal Charles Yards Per Game||123.8||72||-||-|
|Jamaal Charles Touches Per Game||24.1||18||-||-|
Smith isn’t the kind of quarterback who can put an offense on his back like Andrew Luck did a couple weeks ago. Even in a loss, it took a near perfect storm for the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Broncos at home.
With Miller back into the swing of things, the Broncos are starting to remember how to play with him in the game. Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips can now be the No. 2 pass-rusher rather than trying to replace Miller, and that has has improved the pass rush significantly.
The secondary looks better with a good pass rush—even without cornerback Champ Bailey. Smith finished with a completion rate of just 46.7 percent with 5.1 yards per attempt . That's putrid even by Smith's standards.
On the typically pass-heavy third down, the Chiefs converted just four times on 13 attempts. The Broncos didn’t do particularly well on third down offensively, and all the defensive stops gave them the opportunities they needed to finally put the game away in the second half.
The Broncos are getting key contributions from players like rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster, second-year defensive end Derek Wolfe and many others. The Broncos may not have a lot of superheroes on defense, but they have plenty of sidekicks. With Miller on the field, that’s all they need to make their run at the Super Bowl.