By Shawn Lealos
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs battle in the first NFL Thursday Night Football game of the season, and it looks much more interesting than it did when the schedule hit earlier this year. The first Sunday of the season saw the Chiefs dominate the Houston Texans in a 27-20 win that wasn’t even competitive until the fourth quarter. On the other hand, Peyton Manning and the Broncos struggled to put away the Baltimore Ravens, 19-13, and this week’s game will see the two teams battle for a share of first place in the AFC West in the early portion of the season.
Denver Broncos on Offense
The Denver Broncos have a future Hall of Fame quarterback leading their team, and someone who was one of the best in the NFL up until the mid-point of the 2014 NFL season. However, something has happened to Peyton Manning. He has struggled to score points since late last year, and those struggles continued on Sunday in the win over the Ravens. Two years ago, Manning broke the NFL record for yards thrown and touchdown passes. He has not thrown for a touchdown in the last 21 drives, dating back to the preseason. Sunday, he threw for 175 passing yards and the Ravens sacked him four times. That will hurt against a strong Chiefs defense.
It also didn’t help that the Broncos’ starting running back C.J. Anderson accounted for only 29 rushing yards on 12 carries and reserve Ronnie Hillman had to come in and work to help move the ball, also with 12 carries, but for 41 yards. Demaryius Thomas was still the workhorse in the passing game, with seven catches for 60 yards, but Emmanuel Sanders had one more grab and five more yards, with eight balls for 65 yards in the game. If Denver wants to win the tough games, their offense needs to come alive.
Kansas City Chiefs on Defense
That is especially true against a defense as good as the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens always have a good defense, so there is a chance that the Broncos were just struggling against a Pro Bowl caliber defensive unit. However, the Broncos will get a second look at a great defense when Andy Reid sends his players out to stop Manning. Against the Houston Texans offense, the Chiefs didn’t allow Houston to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, and while they gave up 298 passing yards, they held the Texans running backs to 98 total yards.
The Chiefs also had one interception in the game and forced two fumbles, recovering one by quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Chiefs also pressured the Texans the entire game, sacking the opposing quarterbacks five times, including two by Allen Bailey. Derrick Johnson led the team in tackles with eight, including two for a loss, and hit the quarterback once. It was a dominant performance.
Denver Broncos on Defense
The reason that the Broncos won their game over the Ravens had nothing to do with Peyton Manning and their high powered offense, which was shooting blanks the entire game. The reason Denver won was because their defense was playing lights out against the Ravens. As bad as Manning looked, the Ravens and Joe Flacco looked worse. Denver limited Flacco to 117 passing yards and no touchdowns in the game. Aqib Talib and Darian Stewart each intercepted a Flacco pass, with the Talib interception returned for a touchdown, the only Broncos touchdown of the game.
Denver also held the Ravens running backs to 73 total rushing yards, with starter Justin Forsett only running for 43 total yards on 14 carries. While Denver never got to Flacco and recorded a sack in the game, they did hit him nine times with former Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware hitting him a team high five times and Von Miller hitting him three times. If the defense keeps playing like this, they will leave Manning plenty of room to win.
Kansas City Chiefs on Offense
That is the danger point for the Kansas City Chiefs. While they won easily over the Houston Texans, the Broncos bring a very different group of skill into the game. Houston’s offense was playing with a new quarterback and a backup running back. Peyton Manning is still dangerous and the Chiefs will have to be ready to put points on the board. Alex Smith is not the best quarterback to put points on the board, but he’s good, and played well on Sunday with 243 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also didn’t throw an interception, which is his strong point. However, he threw six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns to his tight end Travis Kelce and Denver has a great group of linebackers who will try to limit those touches.
When Smith isn’t throwing the ball to Kelce, he is looking towards his new number one receiver Jeremy Maclin, who caught five passes for 52 yards in the game. The real superstar on the Chiefs’ offense is running back Jamaal Charles. He had a great game in week one, running for 57 yards and catching five passes for 52 more yards. He also added a receiving touchdown to those 109 all-purpose yards and he is who the Broncos have to stop to win the game.
Who Will Win the Game?
The Kansas City Chiefs proved on Sunday that they are good enough to win a lot of games this season. However, the Denver Broncos are never a team to overlook. With Peyton Manning running the offense, the Broncos will win enough games to reach the playoffs once again. The Chiefs want to knock the Broncos from the top of the AFC West, a division the Broncos have won every year since 2011. Winning this year could go a long way in achieving that goal, but until their offense proves it is strong enough to keep up with Denver, the Broncos have the edge here.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.