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Burning Questions: Broncos vs. Chiefs

DENVER — One-thousand-four-hundred-and-ninety-one days have passed since Brandon Marshall knocked the ball free and Bradley Roby scooped up the fumble and ran into the Arrowhead Stadium end zone for a game-winning score.

That was the last time the Broncos faced the Chiefs on “Thursday Night Football” — and it’s the last time they beat the Chiefs.

Could history repeat itself on Thursday night at Empower Field at Mile High?

Just over two weeks ago, the Broncos were 0-4 and the Chiefs were 4-0. Now, Denver has a chance to move within a game of Kansas City in the division with a win.

The Broncos have been close in past years to knocking off the Chiefs, including a game last season in which Patrick Mahomes needed a left-handed pass to escape Von Miller and help Kansas City steal a win.

These are the questions that will help determine if Denver can finish the job this time around:

HOW WILL THE SHORT WEEK INFLUENCE THE GAME?

Just four days after beating the Titans, the Broncos are back on the field. And there’s no question that the short rest will influence the game — from both a physical and mental perspective. 

The Chiefs will be without five starters for “Thursday Night Football”: left tackle Eric Fisher, guard Andrew Wylie, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Kendall Fuller and defensive tackle Chris Jones. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has also appeared hobbled with an ankle injury, though he was a full participant in practice this week.

The Broncos, meanwhile, will be missing cornerback Bryce Callahan and potentially tackle Ja’Wuan James, who is still nursing a knee injury. The short week inevitably cuts down on recovery time, but Fangio said the team will aim to keep game reps similar to a normal week. 

“We try and treat everything as much as we can normal, but we’re just going without the practice,” Fangio said. “We’re still going to put in things we think would apply for this game even if it was a Sunday game, but only do the things that we really think can really help us that might be new.”

From a mental perspective, things are also difficult. Rather than face a full-speed simulation of the Chiefs’ offense in practice, the Broncos had to rely on film work and mental repetitions. Against a team that maximizes misdirection, like the Chiefs, that could pose problems for Denver.

“It’s rare that you do this quick turnaround,” Fangio said. “Everybody does it once a year. It’s hard in that particularly playing an offense as prolific as this you’d like to go out there and experience playing against some of their plays at least at a practice tempo. We won’t be able to do that totally this week. It’s a major adjustment from a weekly schedule.”

The Broncos do have at least one advantage. The home team has won 14 of the last 18 games held on Thursday, excluding season-opening games.

CAN THE BRONCOS CONTROL THE CLOCK?

Over the last two weeks, the Colts and the Texans have dominated time of possession against the Chiefs. As a result, those two teams have been able to keep Mahomes off the field and limit Kansas City’s fifth-ranked scoring offense.

With the Broncos’ dual-pronged rushing attack featuring Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, Denver may be able to replicate that success.

When Denver hosted Kansas City last season, Lindsay and Freeman combined for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Broncos, though, also had three drives that ended in field goals rather than touchdowns — and Denver was only 2-of-11 on third down. That likely needs to change during this matchup.

“It’s about having balance, it’s about protecting the ball and it’s about staying on the field,” Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “You have to be great in situational football. Third downs, you’ve got to convert. If you’re not great on third downs and you’re not going to stay on the field, you’re going to give Kansas City an advantage and you’re going to be in for a long day. You have to score touchdowns and not field goals. If we can do those kinds of things, I feel really good about our chances but it’s going to be a big challenge.”

The Broncos held the Chiefs to 13 points through three quarters last season in Denver, but their offense stalled in the fourth quarter as Kansas City rallied. During this Week 7 matchup, the Broncos can’t afford a repeat of the 14-3 fourth quarter from last year’s game.

“We’re going to have to move the ball and score points,” Fangio said. “It’s going to be hard to really slow their offense down a lot. Our offense is going to have to have a good game, no two ways about it.”

CAN THE BRONCOS’ DEFENSE KEEP ROLLING?

Over the last two weeks, the Broncos have allowed just 13 total points. The team’s defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown through nine straight quarters, dating back to a Week 4 game against the Jaguars. The team’s rushing defense has improved, giving up just 74 combined rushing yards to the Chargers and Titans. And in a Week 6 game against the Titans, the Broncos posted their first game with three interceptions and seven sacks since 1984.

To put it more simply, the Broncos have played lights out.

“They held up pretty well,” said Fangio of his team’s secondary after the win over Tennessee, “but as you all are very well aware of, we have a different test coming here in a few days.”

Indeed, Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are a dangerous trio. Mahomes ranks first in passing yardage and second in touchdowns; Tyreek Hill scored two touchdowns last week in his return from injury; and Kelce has been named a first-team All-Pro in two of the last three seasons.

Mahomes, though, remains the biggest challenge — especially when he gets out of the pocket.

“You want to play tight coverage and you just want to get him on the ground,” Von Miller said Tuesday. “You can’t sit here and say, ‘Keep him in the pocket,’ because he’s going to get outside the pocket. He’s able to make throws inside the pocket, outside the pocket, all over. He’s not like some of the other quarterbacks in the league, if you keep him in the pocket and make him play quarterback he can’t beat you. He can beat you in all types of ways, we’ve just got to be solid. We’ve got to be solid with the run game for sure because if they get started running the ball and they run it all over the place, it’s going to be impossible to win that game.”

The Broncos haven’t held the Chiefs below 27 points during any of the games in their current seven-game skid, and Kansas City has averaged 29.3 points per game.

The good news for the Broncos? Each of the last three games in Denver have been close. The Broncos have lost to the Chiefs by three points, three points and four points, consecutively. Could Thursday be the day the Broncos snap the streak of losses?

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