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Three Keys to Broncos-Chiefs

DENVER -- The 2018 Broncos have not seen an offense like the one Kansas City hauls into Broncos Stadium at Mile High for Monday night's AFC West showdown.

But the 2018 Chiefs and prolific quarterback Patrick Mahomes have not seen a defense like that of the Broncos, either. The Chargers, Steelers and 49ers -- the foes Kansas City vanquished in its 3-0 September start -- could not field the depth of pass rushers that the Broncos possess, nor are they as stout up the middle against the run.

Those games also demonstrated how the Chiefs can make a defense pay for one mistake, one missed tackle or one misalignment.

"If you have one guy out of his gap, they're going to expose it," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "So you've got to make sure everybody's in their gaps, and when it's a run look, play the run. If it's a play-action [look], get your hands up [to knock down the pass].

"But make sure you're playing the run. Don't be running up the field, because you give them a gap, they've got guys with some speed, they'll take off and you won't even see them. They'll be gone."

To contain the Chiefs, the Broncos must meld aggression with discipline.

"What we have to do is be disciplined and execute the game plan," safety Justin Simmons said. "You've got to be aggressive, and that's both man, zone, whatever it us, you've got to have a body on a body, you've got to be aggressive, you've got to read your keys.

"It's almost like playing the triple option -- you've got to lock in to your keys and focus on them and not worry about the dressing they're putting on it with all the motion and stuff in the back end. We've just got to be locked in, and at the end of the day, it's winning your one-on-one matchups and competing."

But as safety Will Parks noted, that should be the idea every week, not just against a team that leads the NFL with 39.3 points per game heading into Monday night.

"You've got to go out there and attack, period. It ain't just them. It's any offense,” Parks said. "You can't go back out there and sit and play conservatively. You play conservatively, they're going to hit you for the 10-yard pass each and every down. They're going to hit you for the 4- or 5-yard runs every down.”

Mahomes trusts his targets equally and will simply throw to the receiver, tight end or running back who has the most separation and the most favorable matchup. He doesn't attempt to force the ball to any one player.

Nevertheless, one target has been more problematic for the Broncos than any other in recent years, and that's where this week's three keys begins:

1. CONTAIN TRAVIS KELCE

This doesn't mean that Kansas City's other skill-position players such as running back Kareem Hunt and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill are not capable of producing gut-punch big plays. But in recent years, no receiving target has been more consistently problematic for the Broncos than Kelce, who has three 100-yard games at Denver's expense since the start of the 2014 season. No other receiving target at any position has more than one triple-digit game against the Broncos in that span.

"At the point of attack, his range in terms of coming down with the football -- it's almost like those 50-50 balls lean to him more 70-30," Simmons said.

Kelce's game-wrecking potential has been on the minds of some Broncos, such as Parks, for months.

"He was the reason why I went down to Texas this year, really," Parks said, citing the extra offseason work he and other defensive backs did after OTAs and before training camp.

"Putting the emphasis on him is what me and 31 [Justin Simmons] have been doing throughout this week. There were even weeks before we played these guys this upcoming Monday where we talked about Kelce. He's been on our mind since this year started.

"Obviously we have other games and things you have to do, but shutting him down is the No. 1 priority for me and 31 alone. We don't want to give that job to nobody else on the defense -- not a corner, whatever. We want to take care of him. We want to go out there and guard him on an island, whether we've got help or not. You can't call for the cops in this day and age. You've just got to go out there and do what you do best."

2. START FAST

In each of their first three regular-season games, the Chiefs leapt to 7-0 leads. What is most noteworthy about this trend is that Kansas City did not possess the football to start the game in any of those wins.

The Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred each time in September. Then their defense immediately forced their foe to go three-and-out each time.

While the Chiefs are 3-for-3 in holding opponents without a first down on their opening possessions, they are 3-for-28 on all other series. Only Atlanta was worse at forcing possessions without a first down in Weeks 1-3.

The responsibility for a fast start rests on all three phases -- not just on Denver's defense. Look no further than how two of Kansas City's three game-opening touchdowns were made possible by its special teams -- a 91-yard Hill punt-return touchdown in Week 1 and a 48-yard De'Anthony Thomas punt return (which included a fumble that he quickly recovered) in Week 2 to set the offense up at the Pittsburgh 10-yard line.

3. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL

Since Andy Reid became Kansas City's head coach in 2013, no team has more wins with a turnover margin of plus-2 or better than the Chiefs. Kansas City is 29-1 with a plus-2 turnover margin in that span, with five more wins in that scenario than the next closest team (Carolina, 24).

The Broncos, meanwhile, have lost 10 consecutive games in which they had a turnover margin of minus-2 or worse. Three of their losses to the Chiefs during their current five-game losing streak in the series saw turnover margins of minus-two or worse.

And few things rankle the Broncos more than that skid.

"We look stupid right now; we haven't beaten them in five games, so we've got to win this game," Wolfe said. "This is one of those must-wins."

Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. hope to limit an explosive Chiefs attack while Case Keenum looks to put up big numbers for the hosts.

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