Chiefs vs. Broncos: Five Things to Watch

Here are a few storylines to keep in mind for Monday’s game

It's the time of the NFL season that teams begin to separate themselves from those who came into the season with high expectations but will ultimately find themselves attempting to climb a mountain that's become just too steep, and those whose ultimate goals will stay right at their fingertips.  

Furthermore, it's the way teams handle this pressure of an ever-shrinking margin of error that determines wins and losses every week, and that's what'll carry them throughout the second-half of the season.

In the game Monday night between the Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) and Denver Broncos (3-3), there's no shortage of pressure. Both teams have lost two straight and are hoping a primetime matchup against a rival is just what they need to get back on track.

A Chiefs' victory gives them a two-game cushion in the NFL's toughest division—the AFC West, but a Broncos' victory further clouds a division that could come down to the final week of the season when these two teams meet again on New Year's Eve in Denver.

It should be a fantastic atmosphere Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.

Here are five things to watch:

1.  How do the Chiefs bounce back?

The Chiefs have dropped back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders by a combined seven points.

The games came within five days of one another and included a short week road game 1,800 miles west of Arrowhead Stadium, but there were no excuses being made inside the Chiefs' locker room this week.

"I think guys were ready for it," quarterback Alex Smith said. "It was something we obviously knew ahead of time. We don't care where it is, and we don't care what the schedule is. We will adjust. We are not going to use that as an excuse."

"We all have a piece of it," Chiefs' coach Andy Reid added. "That's how we feel about it, and we've had some time to look at it, and we'll see how things go against Denver."

While it's not an excuse, there's no doubt the Chiefs will be a better position physically Monday night considering they've had plenty of time to rest.

2.  Kareem Hunt and the rushing offense against the league's No. 1 defense

The Broncos' defensive front seven has been the best in the league against the run this year.

Through seven games, the Broncos are allowing a league-low of just 3.0 yards-per-carry to opposing running backs. They're also the only team in the league that hasn't yet allowed a rushing touchdown.

"They've got a good front; they have (Domata) Peko in the middle, he's a legitimate nose guard," Reid explained.

It's important to note that the Broncos haven't yet faced the league's leading rusher in Chiefs' rookie Kareem Hunt, who has carried the ball 124 times for 717 yards, which averages out to 5.8 yards per carry.

"When he gets into open space, the ability to break tackles," Smith said of what makes Hunt special. "I think the plays in the pass game. You look at last week, a big block he stepped up and had on the touchdown to Tyreek. That's a lot on a young back.

"For him to do all those things right now and handle all that stuff says a lot about him, his future is really bright."

According to Pro Football Focus, Hunt has already broken 37 tackles this year, which is on pace to give him 85 on the year. For perspective, there hasn't been a running back over the past two years that's even broken as many as 65 tackles in a season.

3.  How does the defense stack up against a struggling offense?

For the first time in 25 years, the Broncos were shutout during their 21-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week. They finished with just 251 yards of total offense and turned it over three times.

It's a performance they've been asked about all week.

"It's a unit issue, and we've had some struggles in all areas," Broncos' coach Vance Joseph said this week. "From blocking the speed rushers—that's been an issue from time to time, our run game was really good early on, but it hasn't been good the last two or three weeks, and that's been a factor with our issues on offense.

"But our goal is to get back to our formula. Our three wins look the same and our three losses look the same, so we're looking to get back to doing what we do best."

In the Broncos' three wins, they've averaged 154 yards on the ground, while they've averaged just 75 yards on the ground in their three losses. They've also turned it over eight times in those games.

On the flip side, the Chiefs' defense has allowed 944 yards and 50 points over the past two weeks.

With the Broncos sounding like they want to establish the run, that's an area the Chiefs have given up some yards this season, allowing an average of 124.6 per game, which ranks 25th in the NFL.

4. The matchup to watch—Mitch Schwartz and Von Miller

The right side of the Chiefs' offensive line will feature a matchup between Chiefs' right tackle Mitch Schwartz and Broncos' All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller that's worth the price of admission alone.

When Schwartz, who has proven to be one of the best in the game over the past five-plus years, signed as a free agent with the Chiefs before last season, it was for matchups like the one Monday night.

Since he came into the league in 2011, Miller leads the NFL with 80.5 sacks.

"He's just a special talent," Chiefs' offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said of Miller. "He's really good at understanding leverages and studies film really well, and when you have that with his explosiveness, it's tough."

Last year, Miller finished the Week 12 matchup against Schwartz with six quarterback hurries, but was held without one in the second matchup in Week 16 at Arrowhead.

That was the only game last season in which Miller didn't finish with a hurry, and after that game, Schwartz exchanged jerseys with Miller as a show of respect.

In fact, it's one of the only jerseys Schwartz has and displays in his house from a player who wasn't a teammate (or family member) at some point.

Earlier this week, Schwartz spoke about the chess match that takes place within the game in going up against an elite pass rusher like Miller.

"As you go against guys, you get a little more familiar with them," Schwartz explained. "That's kind of the fun thing—you try one thing and see if it works and if it does, you know he's going to get to a counter at some point.

"That's what separates the good rushers from the elite guys in the NFL is having multiple moves and being able to beat you in multiple ways."

Schwartz isn't the only guy who is familiar with Miller.

"Seeing these guys at the Pro Bowl, you get an up-close view of what they're all about and how they play," Nagy explained. "I'll never forget how at the end of the Pro Bowl this year, they put [Miller] back in at the end of the fourth quarter and said, 'Von, go in there and go get a sack.'

"He did a spin move, got the sack, game over. I'll never forget that."

5. Will we see the return of a few Chiefs?

The Chiefs could see the return of a few key players Monday night as starting center Mitch Morse, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and cornerback Steven Nelson all returned to practice this week after missing time with various injuries.

Chiefs' defensive coordinator Bob Sutton spoke this week about Nelson.

"I think they have a pretty good handle on his physical situation, and he looks pretty good," Sutton explained. "Now, it's just more about reaction, his comfort in getting back and seeing things. That's probably always the hardest thing to judge because you're still not seeing it at quite the speed you'll see on game day."

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