"Finish" is a key theme for the Denver Broncos this week.
In Week 4 against the Chiefs, the Broncos had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter only to fall late, 27-23. Players feel that if they play how they played in the first three quarters for an entire 60 minutes, they'll leave Arrowhead Stadium with a win on Sunday.
But finishing is also a key on the offensive side of the ball — more specifically, finishing drives in the end zone.
"I think we've got to maintain our concentration," Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said Thursday. "When you get into plays eight, nine, 10, 11 of a drive, that's where mistakes can happen. That's part our training. We're trying to train even better as we go through the season to train our guys to maintain their concentration level and discipline deep into the drive rather than waning once we get to that fatigue factor. And they've done a super job of that. We're getting better."
The Broncos rank 14th in the NFL in yards per game but just 19th in points per game. The Chiefs, meanwhile, rank third and first in those two categories, respectively. The Chiefs also score 3.46 points per drive, according to Football Outsiders, best in the league. Keeping up with them may require a mix of smart and aggressive play calls — and that could include going for it on fourth down.
"You'd better be ready to convert on third down or if not, be ready to go for it on fourth down, because field goals won't beat a team like this," Musgrave said. "We've got to get in the red area, we've got to convert fourth downs, we've got to score touchdowns to stay up with these guys, because that's what they do."
In the previous matchup, the Broncos actually outgained the Chiefs on a per-play basis 6.5 yards to 6.2. Where the Chiefs held the edge, though, was in offensive plays (72 to 59). That advantage sprouted from the Chiefs converting on seven-of-15 third downs. The Broncos were just two of 11, and they failed on all four attempts in the second half.
"We didn't capitalize when we were supposed to," Courtland Sutton said Wednesday. "We played them very well. Everybody saw it. We were one of the only teams to play them as well as we did defensively. So, we just have to make sure we match that but then also be able to put those points up and be able to close — not trickle off there at the end like we did the last time we played against them. We've got to be able to finish strong and go into the next possession, the next quarter and keep it going, and positively rolling together."
The Broncos can potentially take advantage on first down. The Chiefs allow 7.1 yards per first-down play, second-worst in the entire league. Success on first down could allow Musgrave to widen his play-calling selections while also avoiding third-and-long situations. Kansas City is the seventh-best third-down defense in the league.
Against Arizona, the Denver offense converted on a third-and-5 on its first scoring drive and both a third-and-6 and a third-and-11 on its second scoring drive. It was a performance that the offense believes can lead to continued success.
"[We need to do] the same thing, just fly around and play our ball," said Demaryius Thomas, who converted the third-and-11. "We can still play better as a whole. Of course, going up against Kansas City, we've got to put up points."
As Broncos fans recall well, a third down could have won the game for the Denver last time out against Kansas City. Case Keenum just missed an open Thomas down the sideline in the waning moments of the game on what would have been a go-ahead touchdown strike. The team failed on fourth down, and the Chiefs' offense assumed victory formation.
Keenum said he'd "lose a little sleep" over the missed throw that night. But four weeks later, he knows it's a completely different game full of completely different opportunities.
"We're a different team," Keenum said Wednesday. "Playing different people, obviously some injuries and some people out, some different guys out there, but's still the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos. We are who we are, and I think it's going to be a great matchup."