DENVER -- **It's never too early in a season to have a massive opportunity.
For the Broncos, they don't get much better than the chance to take a two-game lead on the team that finished in second place last year. But the Kansas City Chiefs are a team that came within an end-zone deflection of a tie game inside the last two minutes of their Week 13 game last season. Although they have lost seven of their last nine games -- including the playoffs -- that postseason defeat saw them roar to a 38-10 lead before fading, showing Kansas City's ceiling if things go well.
The Chiefs are without two defensive starters in Mike DeVito and Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson, but they have Justin Houston back; he did not play in that tight game last December, but has averaged a sack a game dating back to the end of the 2012 season.
Houston's pass-rush abilities are at the center of one of the three keys to Sunday's game:
1. KEEP JAMAAL CHARLES CORRALLED.
This month provides a rigorous set of challenges for the Broncos' remodeled defense: the dual quarterbacking threats of Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and, next week, Russell Wilson, and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who touched the ball 11 times last week but should be much more involved Sunday.
Charles can control the tempo of the game with short bursts, but he wins it with explosive plays. His body of work against the Broncos provides examples of both.
In the November 2012 game at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs were in the midst of their worst season in club history, but Charles racked up 107 yards and averaged 4.65 yards per carry. It wasn't enough for the win, but it created a game more suspenseful than anyone imagined prior to kickoff, as Kansas City dictated the tempo in a game that remains the lowest-scoring regular-season game for the Broncos since Peyton Manning's arrival.
In January 2010, Charles showed his explosion with a 259-yard performance that remains his best in the series, and provided the Chiefs with their most lopsided win at Denver in the last 30 years.
2. CONTAIN THE CHIEFS' EDGE RUSHERS.
When the Chiefs had Houston and Tamba Hali healthy in their Week 11 trip to Denver last November, the story of the Broncos' 27-17 win was how clean the Broncos' offensive tackles and tight ends kept the pocket, as Manning was never hit during the game. Houston amassed 10 total tackles, and Hali added four, but neither was a factor in the pass rush.
|Get all the inside information on Sunday night's showdown between the Broncos and the Chiefs:|
|• Five Key Matchups|
• Breaking down KC's offense
• Breaking down KC's defense
• Broncos-Chiefs pregame podcast
• Three Broncos greats honored
Chris Clark and Ryan Clady held up well last week in pass protection against the Colts' weakened corps of edge rushers. This will be a more difficult test.
3. MAKE THE BIG PLAY DOWNFIELD.
Last year, the Broncos overcame the Chiefs' fast start at Arrowhead Stadium by uncorking the deep ball. Manning completed six passes covering at least 31 yards -- two of which were screen passes, with the rest long tosses. Eric Decker capitalized better than any other Broncos target, catching three of the deep balls. Emmanuel Sanders' speed could open up more horizons in this aspect of the offense.
Running back Montee Ball had his best day as a pro against the Chiefs last year, with his first 100-yard game in the NFL. If the Broncos can get production from him and the other running backs, they can force safety Eric Berry to attack the run, and set up more opportunities for downfield strikes.