KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have already locked up a home playoff game on Wild Card weekend with last Sunday’s victory over the Patriots.
The next three games are about putting themselves in position to slide up to the No. 2 seed if the Patriots or Ravens stumble significantly before the season ends.
Kansas City faces a rejuvenated Denver Broncos team at noon Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Denver has found hope in rookie quarterback Drew Lock, a Lee’s Summit native and University of Missouri graduate.
The Chiefs will have to set the tempo early on defense and repeatedly strike quick on offense to force this game to be played on their terms.
Here are the ways Kansas City can attack the Broncos:
1. Put doubt in Lock's mind, hurry him
Lock's maturation as a quarterback right now is based on quick reads off of play-action passes. He gets into rhythm with this style.
They want him to play-action fake, set up, read option one and two then throw based off those reads.
Lock struggles at this stage in his career with accuracy when scrambling out of the pocket. He tends to throw before he is ready and isn’t always able to decipher robbers in coverage watching his eyes.
He believes in his arm strength and ball placement, but this will cost him multiple turnovers against the right defensive coordinator at this point in his career.
The Chiefs need to send five or six on the blitz to rush his decisions. It will help against the run game too, but also will limit Lock's ability to get into rhythm.
Fellow rookie tight end Noah Fant, who is questionable with knee and foot injuries, is his primary target with wide receiver Courtland Sutton mixed in for his intermediate and deep passes.
2. Close edge, backside cutback
The Broncos’ run game is based on their stretch style. They want to run defenders to the sidelines and let running back Phillip Lindsay pick a hole to cutback or sprint to the edge.
The Chiefs were very effective in this last match-up at making him an insignificant factor.
Kansas City needs to take away the edge and eliminate the cutback lanes to eliminate the significance of the run game again.
3. Isolate linebackers against RBs on offense
Denver’s linebackers struggle to contain the running backs in coverage. They lack the acceleration to stay with them.
Kansas City should run double moves on the linebackers in coverage, isolate them on wheel and angle routes, and bring another coverage responsibility into the flats area.
4. Utilize switch routes
Denver seems to struggle with switch routes on intermediate and deep passes.
If the Chiefs can utilize receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman and even tight end Travis Kelce on the same side, it should result in one or more of them running open over the middle or on deep passes.
The Broncos’ coverage seems to struggle with collectively timed breaks and are slow to decipher their responsibilities.
5. Run at edge with pulling guard, tight end
The Broncos struggle to contain the edge against 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) and 22 personnel (two running backs and two tight ends).
The Chiefs should be able to find multiple ways to utilize a guard and tight end as pulling blockers to seal the edge.
They can also utilize tight-end motion and a fullback to create the same effect at the edge.
Kansas City also can use the groupings to run toss plays with the tight ends and fullback in a bunch formation.
6. Manipulate intermediate voids
Denver allows itself to get overextended outside the numbers based on the route combinations.
The Chiefs can find success early by attacking the short and intermediate routes between the numbers and hash marks with slant, sit-down and dig routes.
The Broncos don't want to get beat deep and are wary of their struggles defending the flats, which opens them up in three-by-one sets with a running back to the isolated receiver side.
The middle opens very quickly on both sides if timed correctly on the route combinations.
7. Finish them
If the Chiefs run two deep post routes on the same side to clear out the deep crosser coming over the middle from the right side, it probably will result in a touchdown.
Opponents this season have used that combination for a touchdown against the Broncos in multiple games. Teams have specifically targeted safety Kareem Jackson with this route.
Most likely, Kansas City will need to run it with Hill and Kelce clearing out for Hardman, but it appears to be there against their two-deep and cover-three looks.
The Chiefs have significant portions of their offense to work on in timing, precision and the run game before they are playoff ready.
This Sunday is an opportunity to work on consistent execution and maintain the number three seed.
Nick Jacobs can be found on Twitter: @Jacobs71. You can also download the weekly 4th and 1 podcast on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify and Stitcher.