Kansas City came into last night's game leading the league in both sacks and adjusted sack rate. The Denver offense centers around a quarterback who likes time in the pocket to throw the deep ball, and is battling a gimpy ankle. The Chiefs' hope of remaining undefeated and staking claim to the AFC West rested on getting to Peyton Manning, and it didn't happen, and the league has something of a blueprint for beating the Chiefs.
The Broncos were the first real test on KC's last-place schedule, so that "1" in the loss column carries disproportionate weight. This isn't to say the Chiefs are now "frauds"—Kansas City held a juggernaut offense to a season-low 27 points—but it has to be worrying that the pass rush, the backbone of the Chiefs' resurgence, is in hibernation. Manning wasn't sacked or even hit last night, and the KC defense has recorded just a single sack in its last three games.
What can Peyton Manning learn from Jeff Tuel? Get rid of the ball. It worked well for the Bills two weeks ago when they somehow managed to hang with the Chiefs, and it was clearly part of the Broncos' gameplan from the get-go.
"This league is a copycat league," Derrick Johnson said. "Whenever things work against you, other teams are going to do it, too."
But while a mental stopwatch can force skittish quarterbacks into turnovers or bad passes, as with Tuel and Jason Campbell in the Chiefs' last two wins, Manning thrives on a quick release. His 61.6 completion percentage while being pressured is the league's best so far this year. He loves his quick drops and his tight end and slot receiver. (He targeted Julius Thomas and Wes Welker a combined 15 times last night.) "Our plan was to get to the quarterback," Tamba Hali said. "But the ball was coming out quick."
The Broncos put up points on their first possession, and that set the tone for the entire game. The Chiefs hadn't trailed by double-digits at any point this season. They were down 10 after 12 minutes last night. Hearteningly for Kansas City, an offense that wasn't designed to play from behind looked fully capable. Alex Smith ran a very un-Alex-Smith-like passing offense, with nearly twice as many designed pass plays as rushes. He looked downfield more than ever, attempting 12 plays of 20 yards or more, completing four and drawing flags on two others. While the Chiefs' old-school formula is equal parts rushing and defense, it's good to know they can air it out a bit if they absolutely have to.
But KC isn't going anywhere without its pass rush. Whereas the Chiefs can scrape by the Clevelands and Buffalos of the league without generating pressure, the Broncos are a different story. The good news is that there are few quarterbacks like Peyton Manning; the bad news is that the road to the AFC likely goes through Denver.