Week 7’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) and Denver Broncos (2-4) features a pair of streaks on Thursday Night Football.
The Chiefs are on a two-game slide, while the Broncos have put together consecutive wins after starting the season at 0-4.
If there’s an opportunity for the Chiefs to right the ship, it could come against a team that has lost seven straight games to Kansas City dating back to Nov. 15, 2015.
Then again, the way the Chiefs have played in their two losses, Thursday night might not be as easy for the visiting team as it would seem. And the Broncos’ last three losses to Kansas City came at a combined 14 points, so it wouldn’t surprise to see another close game.
Here are four key areas to monitor for the Chiefs in their quest to get to 5-2:
Chiefs’ defense against Broncos’ ground game
This subject will be listed first until the Chiefs show a pulse against the run.
Opponents have gashed the Chiefs’ defense to the tune of 761 yards on the ground over the past four games, a whopping average of 190.25 yards per game. The Chiefs have also allowed eight rushing touchdowns in that span, and currently rank 30th in the league against the run.
How did the Broncos get back on the winning track?
Defense and their running game, which produced 191 yards and a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5 followed by 103 yards and a touchdown performance in Week 6’s 16-0 shutout of the Tennessee Titans.
Denver leans on Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman to spearhead their ground game, and it could be double-trouble for the Chiefs if their issues over the past month carryover to the short week of preparation.
Additionally, the Broncos are led by defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio, so prepare for plenty of ball control from Denver’s offense in an attempt to keep Patrick Mahomes and Co. off the field.
It’s a formula that has worked for opponents during the Chiefs’ two-game losing streak, and the Broncos are likely to continue the trend unless the Chiefs’ defense steps up.
Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz against Broncos OLB Von Miller
Schwartz goes from J.J. Watt to facing Miller in consecutive weeks, but this is a matchup the Chiefs right tackle is very familiar with.
For the most part, Schwartz and the Chiefs’ blocking scheme did their job against Watt last week and prevented the elite pass rusher from taking over the game.
The group, anchored by Schwartz, will need to duplicate that effort Thursday night, considering Miller has come on over the past three games with 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits.
Over their past five matchups, the Chiefs have enjoyed a level of success against Miller by holding him to a half-sack and six total quarterback hits.
There is a wild-card scenario at play here, though.
Miller typically lines up on the left side of the defensive line over the right tackle, but could decide to test left tackle Cam Erving if Schwartz is having a good game against him.
Sustain drives and win time of possession
The Chiefs have been their worst enemy in recent weeks with an inability to sustain drives on offense or get off the field defensively.
Sure, the offense is potent and capable of scoring quickly, as evidenced last week against the Houston Texans with a healthy Tyreek Hill back in the lineup. But penalties, dropped passes and the absence of a running game eventually doomed the Chiefs after they jumped out to a quick 17-3 lead over the Texans.
The Chiefs haven’t won the time of possession battle since Weeks 1-2. While they were able to compensate in Weeks 3-4, the disparity caught up to Kansas City in the two recent losses.
In Week 5, the Colts held a 37:15-22:45 edge. The Texans commanded the clock in Week 6 with a mind-blowing 39:48-20:12 advantage, which prompted Chiefs coach Andy Reid to comment that “our time of possession is way out of whack.”
Denver enters Week 7 ranked fourth against the pass, allowing 196 yards per game. The Broncos’ run defense, though, could be exploited given its No. 18 ranking (111.8 yards allowed per game).
Running the football might be the way to go, provided the Chiefs commit to it after totaling just 25 carries for 89 yards over the past two games.
Play disciplined football
In their two losses, the Chiefs were penalized a total of 22 times for 204 yards.
Special teams penalties affect field position, and two infractions in Week 6 resulted in the Chiefs starting drives at their own 9- and 10-yard line, respectively. Mahomes bailed out both possessions by leading the offense to touchdowns, but he can’t be put in that bad spot all the time.
While Mahomes is capable of erasing most mistakes, offensive penalties contribute to killing drives or take away any semblance of momentum.
Defensively, penalties prevent the unit from getting off the field or help keep an opponent’s possession alive.
The Chiefs must clean up this glaring issue and limit the yellow flags thrown their way Thursday night.