Chiefs, Broncos searching for offense in key AFC West tilt
When they face each other Christmas night at Arrowhead Stadium, both the Kansas City Chiefs and visiting Denver Broncos hope for the same present under the tree - a more consistent and productive offense.
The Chiefs (10-4) need a victory to earn a spot in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos (8-6) have slim chances of returning to the postseason after their Super Bowl victory last season.
Kansas City is coming off a 19-17 loss to Tennessee where its offense disappeared in the second half after a first-quarter 14-0 lead. The Broncos are also a week out from their 16-3 loss at home to New England.
In that game, the Broncos had 309 offensive yards, but put only a field goal on the scoreboard. Denver turned the ball over three times, was just 2 of 17 on third-down conversions and ran for only 58 yards. Afterward, the offensive line and secondary shared some barbed words in the locker room.
"It's OK to be upset; there's pain in what we do," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said. "There's no division. That's part of football. We played well enough on defense to give ourselves a chance to beat them, but we did not play well enough offensively to do that. That's football."
On the season, Denver ranks 24th among the 32 teams in offensive yards, producing just 326.7 yards per game. The Broncos are No. 21 in points scored with an average of 21.4 points per game. They are 26th on third downs (34.9 percent) and 29th in the red zone (44.2 percent.)
Those numbers are almost a carbon copy of the offensive problems the Chiefs are producing this season. Kansas City stands No. 23 in offensive yards per game (331.4) and ranks 15th in points with an average of 22.8 points per game. They are No. 27 on third downs (34.8 percent) and No. 27 in the red zone (44.4 percent.)
"I expect us to go back and work hard, get right back on it and fix the problems," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said on his team's loss to Tennessee. "That's what you do. You're still sitting in a pretty good situation here. You're sitting at 10-4, everything's ahead of you and you have a great football team coming in that you have an opportunity to play. So, you get yourself right, and we go play."
What's been especially disappointing for the Kansas City offense has been recent performances in the second half. In the last three games, the Chiefs have produced nine points in the third and fourth quarters. There were no offensive touchdowns, or even setting up a field goal.
"We just have to do a better job across the board -- everybody does," quarterback Alex Smith said. "We need to go out there and execute better, finish better, adjust better. All those things play into it. We need to be better."
For either team, victory will depend on their defenses. The Broncos are one of the league's best, allowing 310.9 yards per game (No. 2) and only 183 passing yards (No. 1). They are fourth in fewest points allowed, at an average of 18.4 points per game.
"We understand that the defense is playing extremely well and offensively we're not playing as good as we're supposed to be," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We're the ones that are holding this team back and we're trying to get it together."
Kansas City's defense hasn't posted as impressive numbers, although they lead the league in takeaways (28) for a plus-13 turnover ratio (No. 2 behind Oakland.) But the Chiefs give up a lot of yardage, allowing 375.1 yards per game (No. 29) and 124.7 rushing yards every week (No. 28). However, they are No. 8 in the league in fewest points allowed, at 19.6 per game.
These teams met on Nov. 27 in Denver and played 75 minutes before Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos banged a 34-yard field goal off the left upright, that bounced in for a 30-27 victory.
"We lost that game about three different times," Kubiak said. "That's the type of team they are; you have to give them credit. I think they've been in 10 or 11 one-score football games this year and have won eight of them. That's what they do and that's why they're in the position that they are in. We can't think about the one we lost. We have to figure out a way to play better in this one."
The defending Super Bowl champions understand they need a victory to keep alive faint hopes for a repeat. That forces the spotlight on the offense.
"That's the difference between this team and last year's," Sanders said. "We came up with the crucial plays. We came with those magic plays. We were able to make those plays and as of lately we haven't been able to."
Updated December 21, 2016