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Broncos transform into smashmouth stars against Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. --The sequel to the Broncos' initial 2014 foray into smashmouth football surpassed the original. And if they continue to build upon the successful template established in the last two weeks of ground-and-pound, rock-blasting play, who knows how the tenor, perception -- and, perhaps, the final result -- of this team might change?

Whatever the answer, the Broncos' recommitment to power football yielded a win unlike any of the last three seasons. The 29-16 dissassembling of the Chiefs was so thorough, it never felt as though the Broncos were threatened, even though the lead over Kansas City hit three scores for only a four-minute, 12-second span of the second quarter.

See the best shots from the action at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night.

The Chiefs were never out of it on the scoreboard, but as C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and a revitalized offensive line jabbed at them, it never felt like they were in it. And by halftime, the combination of frigid conditions, Chiefs mistakes and began sending fans to the exits. By the middle of the fourth quarter, Arrowhead Stadium was half-empty; by the two-minute warning, the only noise came from Broncos fans.

Kansas City's raucous supporters, like their team, were grounded into submission by the kind of metronomic performance that drives teams to championships.

"This is how you win," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "The teams that win in December and going into January are the teams that can run the ball and that play good defense. That's what it's about.

"The past Super Bowl champs are the teams that can run the ball and that have good defense. We're trying to mock that blueprint and C.J. Anderson is doing a good job."

The second-year running back was better than good Sunday. His encore to a 167-yard performance against Miami last week was a 168-yard effort in which he carried the football a career-high 32 times, added 17 yards on two receptions -- including a 15-yard trip past Justin Houston for a first-quarter touchdown -- and ran on 19 of the Broncos' 31 first-down plays.

Anderson's 185 yards from scrimmage were 34 more than the entire Chiefs team Sunday night.

"I just feel like Coach (Adam) Gase challenged me,' Anderson said. 'He said, 'I'm going to call this run and if you can give me four (yards), I'm going to call it again. So I just feel like if I can give him four -- if I can give him eight (yards), then let's keep calling them."

And that's how he ended up with 32 carries, a statistic of which Anderson was unaware.

"I didn't know 32. You don't count your carries. But when you hear them after the game you're like 'Whoo, really? That happened?'" he said.

They used Anderson to establish a rhythm -- and it was a pounding one. On those first-down plays -- when the Chiefs often expected the run -- Anderson averaged 6.0 yards per carry, gaining 114 yards on first down. Nothing else the Broncos did on first down worked nearly as well: they averaged 4.6 yards per attempt on five passes, Manning lost five yards on an aborted play and another yard on a game-ending first-down kneeldown, and Juwan Thompson averaged 3.0 yards on five carries.

Anderson set the tone on his first carry, when he got low, kept his balance under Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe and eked out three extra yards that were the difference between second-and-4 and second-and-7. He ran on each of the Broncos' initial five first-down plays, gaining 32 yards, often breaking tackles in the process.

"It's always been in my arsenal, just running hard and just letting people feel my story, just being that tough, nasty running back that the O-line loves," Anderson said.

And as the Broncos' power offense revved up, the Chiefs' slowed down, their engine clogged by Terrance Knighton, Brandon Marshall and the rest of the Broncos' front seven run defenders, who closed holes and prevented the Chiefs from establishing any form of offensive rhythm.

But unlike the offense, for which the changes have been as obvious as the difference between balmy and frigid conditions, the defense's tweaks have been more subtle. In fact, they displayed a powerful surge off the snap in previous games, but Sunday and the second half of last week's win over Miami brought it to a new level.

"I feel like on defense, we've always been smash-mouth,' said Knighton. 'But when you have a quarterback who breaks every passing record, it labels you a finesse team.

"I consider us a smashmouth team. It's just that when the face of your organization is a quarterback, it's kind of hard to have that, but you know, we'll take it however we can."

And the defensive front earned the right to be called "smashmouth" after simplifying its tactics at halftime against Miami. Since then, the Broncos have allowed just 48 yards on 21 carries, and permuted only two rushing first downs.

"That's what we have to do," said linebacker Brandon Marshall. "Towards the end of the season, who runs the ball best is probably going to go the farthest in the playoffs, so we plan on running the ball and stopping the run."

The smashmouth Broncos. This could take some getting used to, but the result could be a team capable of winning any type of game it faces.

"It helps to be that way when the weather gets ugly during this time," said safety T.J. Ward. "During the cold, you have to grit things out, and it definitely helps to be tougher and more physical, and that's what we're trying to do on both sides of the ball."

There is only one negative consequence of this type of football when it works -- the toll it takes on the men who execute it, none more than the first-team running back, who in three and a half weeks has proved he can take a pounding and maintain his burst. Anderson's 32 carries were the second-most for anyone in the last decade of Broncos football. In the current, pass-centric NFL, such workloads are exceedingly rare.

'I know I'm going to feel all 32 in the morning," he said.

But he and his teammates will also feel victorious, in first place in the AFC West -- and, perhaps, in position to play the type of football that the postseason demands.

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