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Gray Matter Mailbag: AFC West Showdown


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Once again, the Broncos are involved in what by all accounts seems to be the game of the week.

In this week's Gray Matter mailbag, we get to how the players are handling that fact as well as the Broncos' pass protection, Knowshon Moreno's involvement and what the team is asking fans to do before the game begins.

As always, you can tweet me your questions to @GrayCaldwell using the hashtag #GrayMatter. Thanks for this week's submissions, and let's get to it.

@GrayCaldwell #GrayMatter This might be a two-tweet question. After watching some Chiefs games this season, I noticed the Chiefs run (cont.) — Metal Mushin (@metalheadmushin) November 14, 2013

@GrayCaldwell #GrayMatter (cont.) defense is really soft. Could this be a game where Knowshon busts for 100 ? What are your thoughts? — Metal Mushin (@metalheadmushin) November 14, 2013

True, among the statistics the Chiefs rank at or near the top of the league in, rushing yards allowed is not one of them. In fact, Kansas City sits 24th in the NFL, allowing nearly 119 yards on the ground per game. But I certainly wouldn't call the group "really soft." The Chiefs' total defense is technically ranked ninth in the league, but the group is tops in scoring defense -- among many other categories -- allowing just 12.3 points per game. The run defense echoes that. Sure, the yards are there, but opposing teams have scored just two rushing touchdowns against Kansas City, which is tied with Carolina for second in the league.

But ultimately the question was whether Knowshon Moreno will have a big game. He's gained 100 or more total yards in five of the Broncos' nine games this season, including both of the last two. Against the Chiefs in particular, he has averaged more than 104 total yards per game in his career. In seven matchups versus Kansas City, he has 732 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns. It's hard to predict exactly how this Sunday's game will play out and how the Broncos will look to attack the Chiefs' stout defense, but it seems safe to assume that Moreno will be a key factor.

@GrayCaldwell What is the mood at Dove Valley this week? I hope (expect) the players are focused, yet totally amped. — Lindsay Martin (@LindsayMah10) November 14, 2013

I think you're right on the money. Certainly the focus is there -- the Broncos understand the importance of Sunday's game. As Head Coach John Fox always says, division games count twice. Champ Bailey said he can't remember a more anticipated AFC West matchup since 2008, noting that "there's definitely a lot of anticipation there."

Terrance Knighton said this week's game "seems a little bigger," and Eric Decker said that it's "a huge game -- there's no way around it."

Von Miller might as well have addressed your tweet directly with this quote from Thursday:

"It's a little bit of both. It's primetime, Sunday night — that's the game you always dream for. And it's just another game. It's just another week of football. You've got to kind of balance it both. You don't want to get too hyped, but you don't want to be too nonchalant about it."

It doesn't seem like either team will have to worry about being too nonchalant.

"It's what you live for," Kevin Vickerson said. "I think we have the best job in the world — coming out every Sunday just doing what we do. You prepare for this and you live to play ball. It's going to be a playoff atmosphere, so it'll be good."

@GrayCaldwell United in Orange this Sunday? — steve wolfram (@stevenwolfram) November 14, 2013

This isn't officially the United in Orange game, though the Broncos will wear their orange jerseys. Sunday's game is the Salute to Service Game, presented by USAA and OtterBox. Here's some information on what the team is doing to celebrate the game, but the most important aspect to know ahead of time is that fans are encouraged to get to their seats a little earlier for the pregame festivities. The club is asking the fans to sing the National Anthem, which always makes for a cool moment leading up to a big game.

@GrayCaldwell Is Champ playing Sunday? — JS (@mytwocents74) November 14, 2013

He's listed as doubtful, so it's looking like the answer is no. Officially, a doubtful status means there is a 25 percent chance a player will play. Bailey said himself on Thursday that he was "definitely not sure" if he would play, he was happy to get a few days of practice under his belt to test his foot. He said he feels a little better and the injury is "progressing -- not fast enough, but it's progressing."

As for the rest of the injury report, linebacker Nate Irving was listed as questionable and the rest of the players on the list -- including quarterback Peyton Manning -- were listed as probable.

@GrayCaldwell Do you think Denver will go more traditional 2 WR, 2 TE sets to help keep Peyton upright this week? #GrayMatter — Chris York (@cyork33) November 14, 2013

The coaching staff has made it clear that keeping Manning on his feet this week is a point of emphasis.

"We're definitely on high alert wanting to protect our quarterback," Interim Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said on Monday. "We didn't do as well as we can, and we'll need to, (at San Diego). We've got an even greater challenge coming up this week with a team that's sacked quarterbacks more than anybody in this league, so I'm sure that will get plenty of attention."

Del Rio said the team feels good about its ability to keep Manning upright and the personnel that's been doing so successfully this season, but "we just want to do it a little better this week."

As far as lowering the number of receiving targets for Manning in order to add blockers, I couldn't tell you for sure, but I don't expect that to happen. Having Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker on the field at the same time is a benefit to the offense and provides three threats to the defense without even mentioning players like Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno. So playing just two of those receivers at the same time for most of the game seems unlikely.

But regardless of personnel groupings, rest assured that pass protection is on the forefront of the players' and coaches' minds.

"It's a group effort all the way around," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said. "I know the O-Line gets a lot of blame, but it's backs, it's receivers getting open, it's making sure that we're getting rid of the ball on time. It's a full group effort. Right now, we're one of the fewest sacked teams in the league. It's a little bit to do with the line, a little bit to do with the fact that our quarterback gets rid of the ball fairly quickly, but we have to get better as a group. If everyone does their job the right way, we'll get better in that area."

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