KANSAS CITY, Mo. --If the Broncos are to get their offense back on track after absorbing their first shutout in nearly 25 years, they're going to have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves in the passing game.
That isn't to say they cannot, or will not, run the football against the Kansas City Chiefs when they meet Monday night. But when quarterback Trevor Siemian has the chance to hit Demaryius Thomas and other targets downfield, they must connect.
"It's going to be a man-free day," Head Coach Vance Joseph said Saturday. "They're going to load the box for the run game, and that's always an issue because they have one guy you can't block in the run game.
"The pass game has to be efficient for us to move the ball. That's been one of our challenges these past couple weeks. Teams are playing us more single high, which is cover three or cover one. That's the same for the outside guys; they have to win one-on-ones. This Chiefs group, as far as their corners, they're very aggressive. They're very good at press man. We have to win our one-on-one [matchups on] first, second and third down."
It's a simple issue of math. When the Chiefs fill the box and use cover-three or cover-one alignments, there is one defender unaccounted for who can burst to the hole and blow up a run play. Thus, the Broncos must capitalize in the passing game to get that defender out of the box to equalize matters.
"Numbers-wise, they have one more guy," Joseph said. "When they do that, we have to throw the ball with efficiency to keep the chains moving. That's going to be the key."
Beyond that, what are the other keys to the game?
1. Win the turnover battle
It's been a problem in the Broncos' two recent defeats, each of which saw three giveaways and no takeaways.
"We have to quit turning the football over," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "That's the first thing. Throughout the season, that's one thing that has hurt our team. When you're moving the ball and you're doing certain things, then a turnover."
The challenge is particularly stern against the Chiefs, who have gone 423 offensive plays without a giveaway since Kareem Hunt lost a fumble on their opening play from scrimmage in New England in Week 1.
- Limit the damage from Kansas City's weapons**
The backbreaking plays in two losses to the Chiefs last year were three touchdowns that covered at least 70 yards: two by Tyreek Hill, one of which was a free-kick return in Week 12, and one from Travis Kelce on a bubble screen in Week 16.
The equation for beating the Chiefs involves limiting the damage when Hill, Kelce and Hunt get into space, making sure that moderate gains don't become explosive plays, and explosive plays are limited to 15-to-25-yard gains that don't reach the end zone.
"It can't even be 25 [yards] It's got to be seven," safety Will Parks said. "We've got to get to the ball fast, be swarming to the ball.
"We're going to hold up, and everybody's going to arrive, but if not, take your shot."
Kansas City leads the league in touchdowns of 40 or more yards the last two seasons, boasting 19 such scores in that span, seven more than anyone else heading into this weekend. If the Broncos can prevent these scores and force the Chiefs into short-field plays in the red zone, they can limit the scoreboard damage from an offense that leads the league in net points per possession.
- Keep the offense on schedule**
Penalties and other types of struggles on first- and second-down plays ensured that the Broncos needed to gain an average of 8.1 yards on third downs last week to keep their drives alive.
"Early in the year we had a lot shorter situations," McCoy said, "Now the last couple of weeks have been poor.
"You get put in third-and-long, it's tough. Every team's that way. The percentages go way down each yard -- the odds go down. We just have to do a better job on first and second down."