The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense enjoyed quite a party against the Denver Broncos under the prime-time lights of Thursday Night Football.
And the festivities in the Broncos’ backfield mostly came at the expense of quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Chiefs kicked off the party in the first half with six sacks, which tied for the most first-half sacks by any team in the 2019 season. The Chiefs finished the game with nine sacks, tied for the third-most in a single game in Chiefs history and just two off the team record en route to a 30-6 win.
So what went into this kind of defensive performance? The Chiefs’ defense had been under scrutiny over the past month, a stretch that included a two-game losing streak?
“Honestly, we didn’t like the way we played last week and we just couldn’t get out here quick enough,” said defensive end Alex Okafor, who tallied two sacks Thursday. “We wanted to come out here and show what type of team we are, and we did exactly that.”
Six Chiefs registered a sack. Their total included rookie Armani Watts’ stop of Broncos punter Colby Wadman on a botched second-quarter punt attempt.
Okafor, defensive end Frank Clark and linebacker Anthony Hitchens each recorded two sacks. The three defensive players became the first trio from the same team to each record two sacks and force a fumble in the same game since Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas and Peter Boulware accomplished the feat in 2003.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Reggie Ragland rounded out the sack celebration with one each on Flacco, who went down eight times and fumbled twice.
“We knew he would hold onto the ball a little longer than other quarterbacks,” said Ragland, who also scooped up a Flacco fumble forced by Hitchens and returned it 5 yards for a touchdown. “But we were just going out there and doing what we do best.”
The last time the Chiefs recorded nine or more sacks came against the Oakland Raiders in Week 6 of the 2013 season. The Chiefs are now 54-5-1 when the defense records six or more sacks. The Chiefs have outscored opponents 1,759-725 in those games.
While facing an immobile quarterback in Flacco certainly didn’t hurt the Chiefs’ cause Thursday night, the defense helped itself in another area.
The Chiefs entered Week 7 ranked 30th against the run and allowed an eye-popping 761 yards on the ground from Weeks 3-6, an average of 190.25 per game.
But against the Broncos’ two-back attack of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, the Chiefs’ defense clamped down and limited Denver to 71 yards rushing on 21 attempts, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.
“That’s what we’re the most proud of, is stopping them in the run,” Okafor said. “Stopping the run is what allowed us to go hunt like we did, and we set up the formula and blueprint for the rest of the season. Now, we just got to follow through with it.”
Stymieing Denver’s ground game went hand-in-hand with the Chiefs’ ability to get after the quarterback. With Flacco under constant duress, the Broncos became one-dimensional, and it showed up in other areas of the stat sheet.
The Broncos converted a woeful one of 13 third-down attempts, which allowed the Chiefs to hold a 32:13-27:47 edge in time of possession. The last time the Chiefs won the time of possession battle came in Week 2.
Whether the Chiefs can build off Thursday night’s defensive success remains to be seen, but the performance provides optimism for a turnaround.
For now, the defense enjoyed playing its first complete game of the 2019 season.
“It was fun being able to go out there with my brothers and see the potential I already knew we had and see it shine through,” rookie defensive tackle Khalen Saunders said. “We have elite players on this defense and team in general. But seeing it all come together, especially as a rookie, it was breathtaking. It was definitely fun going out there and getting nine sacks.”
Okafor agreed emphatically.
“Everything came together this game,” Okafor said. “Coverage lined up with the pass rush, and that’s what happened, to be honest. We popped it off early and didn’t let off the gas at all.”
Editor’s note: A earlier/previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the sack on Denver’s botched fake-punt attempt to safety Juan Thornhill.