Thursday Night NFL Preview: Broncos at Chiefs

The Sports Xchange

September 17, 2015 at 10:43 am.

Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt (2) and Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt (4) talk following the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup to watch – Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt vs. Broncos P Britton Colquitt. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos (1-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

*Keys to the game: QBs Alex Smith and Peyton Manning are in the crosshairs. Manning looked out of place often in his debut in coach Gary Kubiak’s offense behind a line with three new starters, especially after RB C.J. Anderson (ankle, toe) left the game. Kubiak employs multiple-tight end sets and downshifts to a grinding pace to keep pass-rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali at bay. Delayed blitzes, especially from linebackers and defensive backs, caught the Broncos off-guard repeatedly in preseason and again in Week 1, when Manning was sacked twice in a span of five plays. With time – no certainty based on preseason and Week 1 — he’s more than capable of picking apart the Chiefs’ secondary seven yards at a time on underneath throws to Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

Smith’s security is no guarantee either behind a five-man line that played together for the first time in those positions last week at Houston. The Broncos’ surplus of pass rushers smashed the Ravens’ protection regularly last week. The Chiefs’ quick-drop, timing-based pass offense features TE Travis Kelce and RB Jamaal Charles more than WR Jeremy Maclin. But if Smith gets man coverage – almost assured – outside, Maclin is likely to see increased targets. The screen game is a staple of coach Andy Reid’s offense, and can use the Broncos’ upfield push from edge rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller against them. The Broncos sacked Smith six times in the last meeting.

*Matchup to watch – Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt vs. Broncos P Britton Colquitt: The Brothers Colquitt, and field position, will be a huge factor in a tight game. Chiefs PR De’Anthony Thomas didn’t field a return in last year’s games. The speed demon, now healthy, is a threat to bust the big one.

*Player spotlight – Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman: With Anderson hobbled, Hillman could split the workload or carry it against the Chiefs. Kansas City had the 28th-ranked run defense in the NFL last season, and gave up 168 yards on 32 carries to Anderson when the Broncos visited in November 2014.

*Fast facts: Manning is 13-1 all-time vs. the Chiefs, including 6-0 as a member of the Broncos. … Smith has thrown 33 interceptions since 2010, fewest in the NFL among starters with at least 1,500 pass attempts (Aaron Rodgers, 36).


The Broncos scrap to find big plays, but the Chiefs’ defense shows more bite in a slow-paced game of keep-away.

*Our pick: Chiefs 23-20