By Nick Shook
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The Kansas City Chiefs forced Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian into plenty of mistakes and took advantage of them in a sleepy Monday night affair in Kansas City. Here’s what we learned from the Chiefs‘ 29-19 win over the Broncos:
1. It’s truly a shame that Denver doesn’t have a more complete team, because this defense is rather remarkable to watch. The Broncos made Kansas City’s offense look about as bad as it has all season, keeping Alex Smithbelow a completion percentage of 50 (minimum 20 attempts) for the first time in a regular season game since Week 11 of 2013. Smith completed 14 of 31 attempts for 202 yards and one touchdown, and the Chiefs‘ offense was much quieter than every other contest this season, almost alarmingly so. Kareem Hunt rushed for just 46 yards on 22 attempts, his first game of his career in which he was held under 100 yards from scrimmage.
(Smith fell below 50 percent once last season — Week 8 vs. Indianapolis, exactly one year from Monday night — but it was in a game in which he twice left due to injury.)
This should heap all of the credit on Denver’s defense, which blew a coverage early (Darian Stewartguess wrong on a route run by Travis Kelce) for a touchdown, but rebounded to record an interception (made by Stewart) and a Shaquille Barrett strip sack that caused a fumble recovered by Domata Peko. This felt like a game that should have been 42-6 in the third, but was 20-6 because of the defense. If we were giving grades, they’d get an A-minus. When the offense put the defense in bad positions or gave the players little sideline time to rest, the unit just kept coming back out fighting, keeping the game within striking distance until the latter part of the fourth. That’s all you can ask for from your defense.
2. The problem was, every time Denver’s defense stood firm, its offense wilted. As a team, the Broncos turned the ball over five times. Immediately after the sack fumble, the Broncos went three-and-out. It was an all-around cornucopia of struggles for the Broncos, starting with Trevor Siemian, who was as bad as he’s been as quarterback of the Broncos, missing targets low and high, both in clean, comfortable pockets and while well outside of it. Siemian launched a prayer to Jordan Taylor, who was in single coverage down the sideline but didn’t really have any separation to make him worthy of a target, and it was intercepted by Ron Parker. The biggest problem: Siemian made the throw while rolling right toward the line of scrimmage, where he appeared to have room to run for the first down on third-and-5. Decisions like that (later, he threw across his body directly to a defender for another interception) killed multiple drives and severely hampered Denver’s chances.
3. Denver’s subpar receiving options continue to struggle. Bennie Fowler and A.J. Derby dropped multiple passes. Demaryius Thomas had his own miscues (and stretches in which he was invisible). Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt. The targets and receptions difference on Denver’s side in this one are just awful. Fowler: two catches on six targets. Thomas: 5/9. Derby: 2/4. Cody Latimer: 2/3. Jordan Taylor: 1/3. We could go on, but you get the point.
What happened to the Denver offense that dominated Dallas in Week 2? That seems like ages ago for this unit.
4. Speaking of Siemian, can Paxton Lynch be much worse? Brock Osweiler? Has general manager John Elway’s quarterback nightmare officially been realized? His team’s chosen starter has regressed tremendously, yet it sounds like those behind him might be even worse. We saw how bad Osweiler can be when we watched the Houston Texans last season. Lynch has been kept in bubble wrap save for the preseason and two spot starts last season. The situation under center is suddenly looking dire, and it might make coach Vance Joseph’s first season turn into one he’s going to want to forget rather quickly.
“Why didn’t I [replace Siemian with Osweiler]? Well, at halftime we are in the game still,” Joseph said after the game of his decision at quarterback on Monday night. “He’s our starting quarterback [Siemian]. Late in the third quarter its 20-13. You know, so we are back in the football game. So to go back with our quarterback, in my opinion was the right decision.
“You know, obviously it did not end well. But we are in the game, even with three or four turnovers we are in the football game. So you know I stayed with Trevor because he’s our guy. He’s worked all week. So that was my decision to stay with him.”
Joseph said he didn’t know if he’d make a change at quarterback. He told reporters he would need to review game film first before determining if Siemian will remain the starter.
“Losing three games in a row and having five turnovers tonight, anything’s possible,” Joseph said.
5. I could sound like a broken record here, but Travis Kelce really is fun to watch. He led Kansas City in receiving with seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown, and did it in his typical Kelce way, making catches in traffic and taking the blows of multiple defenders on his way to the turf. And of course he hit the Jerk in the end zone after scoring — we’d expect nothing less.
After the game, Kelce discussed with ESPN’s Randy Moss (soon to be a Hall of Fame receiver) his route that ended in a touchdown, a sluggo that he broke off sooner than usual. Kelce immediately gave credit to Denver’s defense, calling the unit “smart” and the best in the league, and explained he broke off the slant path to the go route after just one step because of the need for surprise variation. Fans see plenty of big men slam into each other and fast men run around them, but Kelce’s explanation demonstrated how the subtleties make a world of difference in this league, and what makes him special.
6. Another pat on the back is deserved for Harrison “Butt-Kicker” Butker, who has been lights out in prime time as of late. Butker was 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts Monday night, including a long of 51. For a guy who was drafted by Carolina and let go in favor of Graham Gano, he sure has been effective for a contending team that occasionally finds itself in need of those points — like they did on Monday night.
By the way, the nickname is a creation of Andy Reid’s, not mine. He can make more of those corny jokes when his team is 6-2 and seated comfortably atop the AFC West with another divisional win, albeit not pretty, under its belt.