Before the season began, no one was entirely sure what to expect from Kansas City. The Chiefs were turning the offensive reins over to a second-year quarterback with a gunslinger streak and had a defense with more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese.
Up to this point, most of the country has only seen the Chiefs’ offensive fireworks through highlights. Now, they get to step into the national spotlight with a showdown against AFC West rival Denver (2-1) on Monday Night Football.
Kansas City has won the last five meetings with the Broncos, including three straight at Mile High.
What do the Chiefs need to have happen to keep that streak alive in Mahomes’ ESPN coming out party? Glad you asked.
Kareem Hunt vs. Expectations
Exactly one year ago, fantasy owners who had taken a chance on Kansas City’s third-round pick were fist pumping all over the place. The Toledo product had exploded for 538 total yards and six touchdowns during the Chiefs first three games.
This year, things are a little bit different. Fantasy owners who hitched their team’s fortunes to Hunt aren’t quite as angry as, say, those with Arizona’s David Johnson, but they’re not happy either.
The reigning rushing champion currently sits 17th in the league with 168 yards. Just as concerning, he’s caught only one ball–albeit for a score–after hauling in 53 passes last year. He’s at least managed to notch three touchdowns.
Heading into the season, there was some concern that Hunt might be heading for a sophomore slump. The reasoning at the time was that teams would gear up to stop the second-year back, at least until Mahomes proved that he could handle defenses that had game planned for him.
Well, that happened in the first half of the Chiefs first game, and Hunt has still been bottled up. Some of that is scheme. It’s stating the obvious to say that Reid’s offense looks different with Mahomes under center than it did with Alex Smith.
With teams forced to pay attention to all of Kansas City’s receiving threats, there should be running lanes that open up. So far, though, Hunt hasn’t hit holes with much authority. After a rookie season where he became known for explosive running plays, his longest gain through three weeks is 16 yards.
Hunt went through a slump during his first campaign, so there’s no reason to believe that he won’t get it going at some point. It would be fun, though, to see what the Chiefs offense looks like with Hunt fully joining the party.
Over his illustrious career, Miller has proven to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. There has been only one season where the former first-round pick hasn’t totaled double-digit sacks, and that was because of injuries.
Already this season, the Broncos linebacker has four sacks in three games. That has him tied for the league lead.
Denver’s star defender hasn’t had as much success against Kansas City since Schwartz came over as a free agent from Cleveland in 2016. With the exception of a three sack performance in their second matchup, the Chiefs’ right guard has held his own against Miller.
In fact, that one game accounts for all of the linebackers’ sacks against Kansas City since Schwartz took over at right tackle. Miller was on the field for Mahomes first start in last year’s meaningless Week 17 game but managed just a single hit on the young quarterback.
Even Reid and the Chiefs are looking forward to the battle.
One of Andy Reid’s favorite features of the twice-annual meetings between the Chiefs and Broncos are the matchups between Kansas City right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Denver outside linebacker Von Miller. It’s a fun matchup to watch,’’ Reid said…. https://t.co/ge8hs3rNv3
— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) September 27, 2018
The Broncos feature one of the league's top rushing attacks, plus the Mitch Schwartz-Von Miller battle.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 28, 2018
If Denver wants to join the Chiefs atop the AFC West, they’ll need Miller to play up to his reputation.
Phillip Lindsay vs. Bob Sutton’s Swiss Cheese
The preseason concerns over Kansas City’s defense were not overstated. Through three weeks, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton‘s group is giving up an average of 466.7 yards and more than 31 points per game. That’s, um, not good.
At this point, Sutton is the biggest Mahomes fan in the world, since the quarterback has saved him repeatedly.
Most of the damage against the Chiefs, though, has come through the air. Kansas City is only allowing an average of 3.6 yards per carry and 77.7 yards a game on the ground. Of course, when your defensive backs are giving up boatloads of receptions there’s really no reason for teams to bother running.
Denver’s ground game has been solid, though, with rookies Lindsay and Royce Freeman forming a nice one-two punch. The duo has amassed 350 rushing yards, with a 5.1 yards per carry average.
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph rose through the coaching ranks on the defensive side of the ball. He knows that one of the best ways to keep Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins from lighting up the Mile High scoreboard is to keep the ball away from them.
Given the first three games, it’s entirely possible that Keenum will suddenly be able to consistently get the ball to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders with the Chiefs in town. Actually, the more accurate word might be “likely.”
However, Keenum is the weakest quarterback that Kansas City has faced so far. The Chiefs need their front seven to keep the Broncos’ rookies from keeping the chains moving. The more chances that Keenum has to attack Kansas City’s defensive backs, the better he’s going to end up looking.
At the very least, stopping Denver’s rushing attack might take the pressure off of the Chiefs offense to keep scoring more than 30 points every game.