Numbers matter. Yes, the game is played out on the field — not on paper — but a quick look at the statistical profile of a team can show tendencies, strengths and weaknesses that shine some light on what can be expected when the teams take the field. This series is an examination of how the Broncos can gain an advantage against their opponent from a statistical perspective.
Here are the numbers that matter in this Week 8 matchup against the Chiefs.
The Broncos recorded five takeaways against the Cardinals thanks to three interceptions — two returned for touchdowns — and two recovered fumbles. It was the first time the team forced five turnovers since Sept. 17, 2015, which coincidentally was a 31-24 win at Kansas City, the most recent Denver win at Arrowhead Stadium.
That’s not the only reason five matters. After throwing zero interceptions in his first four games, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown five in his last three games. The Broncos held Mahomes in check for most of the team’s matchup in Week 4, but he led a fourth-quarter comeback to help the Chiefs earn a big win. Showing Mahomes multiple looks and taking advantage of any small mistake could turn the tide in Denver’s favor.
“Mahomes, he can make all of the throws,” said Chris Harris Jr. on Wednesday. “I think with him, you just try to pick and choose whether you can make your plays.”
10.3 and 9.5
Of the Broncos’ 255 pass attempts this year, exactly one-fifth of them — 51 attempts— have come from under center. When throwing from plays that start from under center, Case Keenum averages 10.3 yards per attempt, significantly better than when he throws from the shotgun (6.0 yards per attempt).
Though it’s a small sample size, those numbers could indicate a path to success against Kansas City. The Chiefs allow 9.5 yards per attempt to opposing teams on passing plays that originate under center. They allow just 6.9 yards on passing plays from the shotgun formation.
In this sense, it seems like a Denver strength matches up with a Kansas City weakness, though the Broncos only average about seven under-center throws per game. Still, if there’s a big play or two to be had on Sunday, it might come from when Keenum starts the play under center.
“For us offensively, we’re trying to score every time we get the ball,” Keenum said Wednesday. “I think if we do that, I think we’re going to come away happy.”
2 for 11
In the Week 4 meeting between these two teams, the Broncos racked up over 450 yards of offense but scored just 23 points. A big reason for that was a 2-for-11 performance on third down. The Chiefs defense — though improved over the last couple of weeks — still ranks last in yards per game allowed, second-to-last in yards per first down play allowed and 29th in yards per play allowed. Where the Chiefs excel is on third down, when opponents only convert 34.1 percent of attempts, the seventh-best mark in the league. Converting on third down to keep drives alive could be a key to a Broncos victory on Sunday.
72.8 and 17
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Broncos allowed four catches and 72.8 yards per game — as well as two total touchdowns — to opposing teams’ top tight ends. But in the past three weeks, Denver has solidified that area. Opposing teams’ top tight ends are averaging just two catches and 17 yards per game. No opposing tight end has reached the end zone against the Broncos in those three games.
Defending the tight end is one of the Denver defense’s top priorities this weekend facing Travis Kelce. In the Week 4 matchup, Kelce went without a reception the entire first half. In the second half, though, he caught seven of his nine targets for 78 yards and a key fourth-quarter touchdown. Kelce can serve as a security blanket — he’s the second-most targeted player on the Kansas City offense — as well as a downfield threat in the Chiefs’ explosive offense. Covering him closely could force Mahomes to look elsewhere, giving the pass rush an extra second or two to bring the heat.