The glow of snapping a four-game losing streak didn’t last long for the 3-4 Denver Broncos, who enter Sunday’s key AFC West showdown at Kansas City dealing with troublesome off-the-field issues. First, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was the subject of trade rumors reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Schefter reported several teams had contacted Denver regarding the receiver’s availability, a subject he didn’t avoid Monday. “I saw a couple of them. It’s football, it’s a business,” Thomas said. “That’s what happens. It’s happened before. I never think it would happen to me, but I’m just like everybody else. I’m an athlete and it happens once you get older.” Thomas is the longest-tenured player on the roster and the team’s second-leading receiver but the recent play of rookie Courtland Sutton has possibly signaled the end of the Thomas era in Denver. The trade rumors took a backseat to the issues surrounding quarterback Chad Kelly, who was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of criminal trespass. A day later the Broncos released Kelly, who the last pick in the 2017 draft. The incident stemmed from a Halloween party hosted by linebacker Von Miller on Monday night. Kelly was asked to leave the party and entered the Englewood, Colo., home of a couple and sat on the couch next to the woman. The man chased Kelly out of the house and later identified him as the intruder, according to an affidavit filed in Arapahoe County Court. Kelly appeared in court Wednesday morning, around the time the Broncos announced he was released. Kelly was serving as Case Keenum’s backup, appeared in one game but did not throw a pass. Kevin Hogan, signed Sept. 2, will move up on the depth chart. The lingering cloud of issues could make it tough for the team to focus on the 6-1 Chiefs, who are rolling behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He led Kansas City to a 27-23 in Denver in Week 4.
NOTES & QUOTES
--The Broncos’ secondary has been tested all season and is going to be challenged against Kansas City’s talented receivers. Having cornerback Adam Jones practicing after missing time with a thigh injury will help, but if safety Darian Stewart’s neck injury keeps him out of the game Denver will be think back there. Not giving Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes too much time to dissect the coverage will help. Rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb has found another level and provides a good counter to All-Pro linebacker Von Miller. “We’ve just got to go out there and just do our job,” Chubb said. “Whatever the team needs us to do, whether it be the outside linebacking group, the D-line group, whatever, we’ve just got to do our jobs, go out there and dominate.”
-- Denver’s top offensive rookie trio — running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, along with wide receiver Courtland Sutton—have combined for 1,131 yards from scrimmage in 2018 with that total representing the fifth-most yards by a rookie trio through seven games since the 1970 NFL merger.
--Outside linebacker Von Miller’s 91 sacks leads the NFL since he entered the league in 2011. He has 11.5 sacks in 15 games against Kansas City.
BY THE NUMBERS
--The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 with defense, but it is no longer that dominant unit that shut down Tom Brady and Cam Newton on the way to the championship. Denver ranks 22nd in total yards allowed and 31st in stopping the run. That could be troublesome against Kansas City’s No. 2 offense in terms of total yards. While the Chiefs are more potent through the air, ranking 5th with 313.1 yards passing per game, Kareem Hunt is the reigning rushing champion and quarterback Patrick Mahomes can tuck it and run when his receivers are covered. Denver will need to use a balanced attack with Case Keenum finding open receivers and using the running game to keep Kansas City’s defense honest. The Chiefs’ defense ranks last in yards allowed with 3,048 given up this season so Denver will have opportunities to attack, especially with linebacker Justin Houston out with a hamstring injury. “We’ve got to go out and make the plays,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I just think overall as a team, we’re growing. That’s going to happen. This is Case’s first year in the system and our first year with Case, so obviously as the days go on, as the games go on, we’re going to get better and better.”
-- Running back Royce Freeman is dealing with an ankle injury and did not practice Wednesday. He suffered the injury in the win at Arizona on Oct. 18 and spent the off weekend at the practice facility getting treatment. If he can’t play Sunday then Devontae Booker should get more reps behind Phillip Lindsay.
--Linebacker Shane Ray did not practice before Thursday because of ankle and wrist injuries suffered in the loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 14. His status for Sunday at Kansas City was not known mid-week.
--Safety Dymonte Thomas practiced this week after a chest contusion suffered against the Rams on Oct. 14 kept him out for Week 7.
-- Center/guard Nico Falah was signed off the New York Jets practice squad after G Ron Leary was placed on IR with a torn Achilles. Falah is dealing with a concussion and did not practice before Thursday.
--Safety Darian Stewart sat out practice this week with a neck stinger suffered in the Arizona win.
This is the 116th meeting in the storied history of the series and the Chiefs have dominated the last three years. Kansas City is on a six-game winning streak against Denver, which earned its last win against the Chiefs on Sept. 17, 2015 with Peyton Manning at quarterback. The Chiefs lead the all-time matchups 62-54-0 and are 38-19 overall at home against the Broncos. Denver won the only playoff matchup between the teams, 14-10, on its way to winning Super Bowl XXXII.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan will serve as Case Keenum’s backup this week after the release of Chad Kelly following his arrest. Hogan was claimed off waivers a week before the start of the regular season and has been inactive for all seven games. Now he will be thrust into a bigger role, especially if Keenum struggles gets hurt against the Chiefs. Hogan said Wednesday he is ready for his new role. “I feel very prepared. This is going on week seven or eight in the system and I spend a lot of time working and studying,” he said Wednesday. “The coaches have done a great job of getting me caught up and I’ve put in a lot of time and preparation, even though I haven’t suited up yet. I always took the gameplan seriously and prepared as if I was playing. I’m not going to treat it any differently, just going to put the uniform on.” Hogan played eight games with Cleveland in 2017 and 2018. He is 60-for-101 with for 621 yards passing in his career.
The Broncos have to duplicate their blueprint from the first three quarters of the Oct. 1 matchup against the Chiefs, but do it for 60 minutes. They held Patrick Mahomes in check until the fourth quarter but then allowed him to engineer touchdown drives of 75 and 60 yards to rally the Chiefs from 10 down to a 27-23 win. Mahomes finished with 304 yards passing in the win with 153 of those coming in the last 12:47. Denver kept Mahomes in containment for the first 45 minutes but it broke down in the pivotal fourth quarter.
The best way to contain Kansas City’s high-powered offense is to keep it on the sidelines. The Broncos need to sustain drives, which might be tougher if running back Royce Freeman can’t play. Phillip Lindsay has shown he can carry the ball but he has done it in tandem with Freeman, giving defenses different looks from the backfield. Quarterback Case Keenum has to get the protection up front to have time to find Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Coutland Sutton in the Chiefs’ suspect secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
The Denver pass rush got to Patrick Mahomes plenty of times but only recorded one sack in the first meeting. Mahomes proved elusive, especially on one play in the fourth quarter when he switched the ball to his left hand and completed a pass to Tyreek Hill as linebacker Von Miller was pulling him down. When the Broncos have the opportunity they need to tackle Mahomes before he can make a play and keep him contained in the pocket as often as possible.
The Broncos secondary will also have to keep wide receiver Tyreek Hill from having a big day. The speedster has torn up good teams this year, including a three-touchdown day against New England two weeks ago. Hill is one of the fastest players in the NFL so keeping him from getting into the open field will limit his effectiveness. Containing him most likely falls on All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who has the ability to shut down the opponents’ top receiver. Harris needed I.V.s during the first game due to dehydration. “Yeah, I’ll definitely load up on some I.V.s or whatever for the game, as much as I can,” Harris said, laughing.”