When you talk about strength vs. strength, as in the Kansas City Chiefs defense taking on the Denver Broncos offense, you have to figure that it comes down to match-ups on each individual play. Sometimes the Broncos guy will win, and sometimes the Chiefs guy will win. There shouldn’t be an overwhelming advantage either direction because each unit is so good: even with adjustments to account for their weak strength of schedule the Chiefs D has a stout -10.2% DVOA (where negative is a good thing). With those same adjustments for the relatively weak schedule of the Denver Broncos, they blow the rest of the league away in offensive DVOA with a 35.4% mark.
Even with all of the talk this week about the Broncos struggling to protect Peyton Manning (despite the fact that they have still allowed the fewest hits and hurries in the entire league, even with back-up linemen and a gimpy Manning), that “strength vs strength” match-up very well might end up being a wash. On some series the Broncos O will win, on others the Chiefs D will. If that’s the case, this game will come down to the Alex Smith-led Chiefs offense versus the Broncos defense.
If that ends up being the case, the Broncos have a decided advantage.
The season total defensive numbers still are not impressive for Denver, but their play has improved in recent weeks. Two facets in particular should make a difference. The play of the Broncos’s pass rushers continues to be solid: Shaun Phillips quietly continues to play well, posting eight sacks on the year. Von Miller has been a monster since his return, posting an astounding 18.4 overall grade according to ProFootballFocus. That almost doubles the grade of any other Bronco, and he has done it in half the plays.
If you combine a solid pass rush with Denver’s success against the run (9th overall in run defense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders), then you have the pieces in place for this defense to win the overall battle against the Chiefs offense. Really, the Broncos just need to continue to prove that they are an above-average defense with individual playmakers who can come through in big spots. On the other side of things, the Chiefs offense is below average (-3.4% DVOA, where negative is a bad thing). Above average defense will be good enough, especially if Miller or Phillips can come up with a big play or two in passing situations.
The hyped match-up is the Kansas City offense vs. the Denver offense. But if this game is won in the less hyped showdown between the KC offense vs. Denver defense, that will result in a Broncos victory.