DENVER -- As Peyton Manning was under siege a bit more often in recent weeks, it was easy to point to the offensive line as a culprit -- even though there were reasons why Manning took more sacks and hits in the previous three games than he did in the first six. The state of Manning's well-chronicled injury issue, an ankle sprain suffered by right tackle Orlando Franklin and the continued transition to life without an All-Pro left tackle all played a part.
But it was more than that. And with the sack-happy Chiefs looming Sunday, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase knew it.
"It's a group effort all the way around," Gase said last week. "I know the O-line gets a lot of blame but it's (running) backs, its receivers getting open, it's making sure that we're getting rid of the ball on time. It's a full group effort."
And then he reminded listeners that the Broncos were among the league's leaders in allowing the fewest sacks. They ranked second in sacks allowed, both overall and relative to the number of pass plays executed. They also led the league in fewest quarterback hits allowed, with one every 12.8 pass plays.
So if there was going to be a team, a blocking scheme and a passing attack that defused the league's most prolific pass rush, it was going to be the Broncos. Nevertheless, few expected the Broncos to hold the Chiefs without a sack -- even though the Buffalo Bills had done the same thing in protecting fill-in quarterback Jeff Tuel two weeks ago.
But that was the defining statistic of the Broncos' 27-17 win Sunday: no sacks -- and also no hits.
"That's the main thing we were talking about it the whole week -- don't let anybody touch the quarterback," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
There are two things the Chiefs do well defensively, above all other attributes: rush the passer and force takeaways. These are often linked. They did neither; the one turnover they got was self-inflicted, on a botched handoff. And although Peyton Manning wasn't always accurate -- he had three passes batted down near the line of scrimmage -- only once did he throw a pass that had a genuine opportunity of being intercepted.
The Broncos' efforts to neutralize Tamba Hali and Justin Houston had multiple facets: a commitment to the run that kept the Chiefs off balance (35 runs by running backs against 40 passes); short, timing passes that dampened the effectiveness of the pass rush, and, finally, the ability of offensive tackle Orlando Franklin and Chris Clark to keep Manning's upright.
"Me and Orlando knew we had to go in and do what had to be done to protect Peyton," said Clark. "It was a dual effort. Yeah, it's always a good deal when your quarterback doesn't get touched. I mean, we just keep our heads down and keep blocking -- don't look at the scoreboard, don't look at the time, keep blocking your guy. (It's) like tunnel vision."
Except it requires just the opposite: a head on a swivel, and a quarterback equally capable of seeing in every direction.
"There were times when we had pressure and you saw him slide and throw to the opposite (direction), which isn't an easy thing to do," said Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid. "He did that and got away with a couple of that most guys wouldn't be able to get away with."
Meanwhile, the Broncos' pass rush, somewhat overlooked in the build-up to Sunday, sacked the agile Alex Smith three times, hit him five times and left him unsettled and often running for survival. His completion percentage of 46.7 was his second-worst in the last five years.
In the pass rush, the Broncos did what the Chiefs could not -- on offense and defense. And in the NFL of 2013, that makes all the difference in the final result.